The gambling machines confiscated last year in a controversial seizure at an East County Indian reservation are illegal, a federal judge ruled Monday.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Marilyn L. Huff follows a ruling last month that the San Diego County Sheriff's Department had overstepped its bounds when it raided the Sycuan Indian Reservation and two other reservations in October.
Sycuan officials filed a lawsuit contesting the legality of the seizure on reservation land, which they argue is under exclusive federal jurisdiction.
Deputy County Counsel R. Mark Beesley, who is representing the defendants in the case--Sheriff Jim Roache, the district attorney's office and the county--said Huff's decision supports the defendants' contention that the raids were necessary to curb illegal activity.
"It's a big decision," Beesley said. "The status of the machines has been a major point of contention."
In a 15-page order, Huff said the machines fall under a category of gambling devices that requires an operating agreement with state authorities. Sycuan officials said they believed the machines were in a category that did not require state sanctioning.
Sycuan officials said the decision will not damage their case.
"The major battle was already won when the judge ruled that the state does not have jurisdiction in policing the reservation," said Jim Trant, tribal business manager.
Trant also said that Monday's decision would have a negligible effect on business.
"We would have liked to keep the machines, but they are not crucial," Trant said. "They didn't account for a major portion of our income, less than 2%. We had them for less than 30 days, and business has gone on quite well without them."
Trant said the income of reservation casino is about $100,000 a month.
The raids by sheriff's deputies in October netted 288 machines from Sycuan, Barona and Viejas reservations. Complaints by the two other reservations were filed separately.