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LOS ANGELES-Lawyers this week are expected to begin arguing a potentially far-reaching case that could end the long casino-building boom in California—or perhaps start a brand new round of construction.

The lawsuit was filed by a group of card clubs and bingo-parlor owners, who say it’s unconstitutional for the government to make them follow one set of rules while casinos owned by the state’s Indian tribes are allowed to follow another. Non-Indian owners are essentially being discriminated against, they claim, and it’s costing them millions of dollars in lost profits.

Construction of Indian-owned casino-hotels in California has skyrocketed since a law was passed about two years ago allowing tribes to offer Nevada-style gambling that includes slot machines and other popular games. Casinos that aren’t owned by Indians can offer only poker and a handful of other card games, which limits their appeal to gamblers.

In a written brief, card-club attorney James Hamilton says that allowing Nevada-style gaming only at Indian-owned properties is an illegal “classification grounded on race or ethnic origin that violates the equal protection guarantees of the 5th and 14th amendments.” Hamilton says his card-club clients should be allowed to offer slots and other games too; if not, then the machines should be removed from the Indian-owned casinos so everyone will be on equal footing.

The Indians are being defended by lawyers from the US Interior Department, which helps to operate the reservations. They are being aided by state government lawyers from California and also from Washington, which also allows expanded gaming at Indian casinos. Though the case is being heard in Sacramento, the eventual ruling could have its biggest impact in Southern California because that’s where most of the Indian hotel-casinos have either been built or are planned.

US District Court Judge David F. Levi’s eventual ruling in the non-jury case could conceivably either stop the casino-building boom or fuel it. The construction boom will likely continue if the Indians win, experts say, and could even get stronger if Levi allows non-Indian owners to offer Nevada-style gaming too.

But if Levi instead rules that the tribes can no longer offer slot machines and other popular games, experts say construction could come to a screeching halt because gamblers would once again have to go out of state to enjoy Nevada-style gaming.

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