DENVER – Gov. Bill Owens apologized for saying "the natives are getting restless" during the Western Governors' Association Summit (search) conference on tribal gambling.
Some attendees told the Rocky Mountain News the room fell silent, then was followed by groans and chuckles when Owens uttered the remark after a participant's microphone wouldn't work and the governor urged it be fixed quickly.
"It was an inadvertent comment that the governor regrets," Owens' spokesman Dan Hopkins said Thursday. "He apologizes to anyone who was offended."
Sheila Morago, executive director of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association (search), said, Owens laughed when he said it and so did the people sitting with her.
"I don't think he meant it in any derogatory way at all," she said.
Richard Milanovich, tribal council chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (search) in Palm Springs, Calif., said he "couldn't imagine" Owens or any person of stature making that kind of remark.
Owens "went out of his way to call this conference, and then more or less made fun of the people who were there," Milanovich said.
Owens and other governors at the conference said they were concerned about tribes using a potential loophole in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (search) of 1988 to stake claims to off-reservation land on which they hope to operate casinos.