Setting up a likely court battle, one of two Southern California tribes accused by the state of illegally operating machines that look and feel like slot machines yesterday refused to remove them from its casino floor.
Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians, said the tribe will sue Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration if it attempts to restrict the tribe from operating the machines.
He said they are permitted under the gambling agreements.
"The governor's office will have to realize (its) in error and back off or we're going to continue to fight in court," Macarro said.
"We believe these devices are entirely legal and allowed, and under our compacts we're exercising our right to have these devices. So the governor's getting some bad legal advice."
The administration last week sent letters to Pechanga and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, ordering the tribes in Riverside County to remove thousands of "video lottery terminals" and have them returned to the manufacturer.
Pechanga had 1,671 terminals and Morongo will have 2,025 that "are virtually indistinguishable from slot machines next to which they have often been placed," according to the letters sent Nov. 4 by Peter Siggins, the administration's legal affairs secretary.
The tribes were given 60 days to remove the machines.
A spokesman for the governor, Vince Sollitto, said yesterday that if the tribes refused to comply, the state would consider filing a lawsuit in federal court against them.
Under the 1999 compacts signed by former Gov. Gray Davis, tribes are allowed to operate a total of 2,000 slot machines, which are subject to fees paid to two state-controlled funds.
One fund earmarks $1.1 million a year to tribes without casinos. The other fund benefits local governments where tribal casinos are located.
This year, counties received $25 million.
Morongo and Pechanga both have 2,000 slot machines, but tribal officials said the video lottery machines are not covered under their compacts and do not count toward the 2,000 limit.
The main difference between the two types of machines lies within their software, tribal officials said.
With slot machines, gamblers play against the house, which determines the odds. Players of video lottery machines play against one another.
Morongo attorney George Forman yesterday declined to say whether the tribe would remove the machines.
Macarro said Pechanga has had about 400 video lottery machines on its casino floor for the past year. He said the tribe will refuse to pay revenues from those machines to the state.