Courts, state leaders affecting tribal casino plans
Court decisions and the opposition of elected officials are threatening plans for several tribal casino projects across the eastern United States.
A federal court judge in early-April refused an attempt by the Eastern Shawnee Indian Nation of Oklahoma to purchase land for a casino in Ohio, the latest in a series of efforts by the federal government and courts to halt off-reservation tribal government casinos.
U.S. District Court Judge James G. Carr in Toledo dismissed the tribe’s lawsuit without endorsing any of its claims that the settlements represent court recognition of tribal rights to land in the city of Lima as well as the counties of Stark, Logan, Shelby, Butler, and Warren.
The state had maintained the proposed settlements with private property owners and municipalities were the tribe’s first step in trying to convince the federal government to formally recognize an Ohio reservation.
The tribe argued that the lands were once populated, fished, or hunted by the aboriginal Shawnee Nation, which was forced west early in Ohio statehood.
In the ruling, Carr said he dismissed the proposed settlements because approving them could be perceived as endorsing the proposition that the settlements resolve land claims.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of the Interior must reconsider its approval of a tribal-state compact to allow the Seneca Indian Nation in New York to develop a tribal government casino in downtown Buffalo, a federal district judge ruled in April.
The 14-page ruling by U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny upholds his January decision ordering a review of the tribal-state agreement, or compact, enabling the tribe to develop the casino near HSBC Arena.
Philip Pantano, spokesman for Seneca Gaming Corp., told The Buffalo News the tribe is not surprised by the ruling, which attorneys for the Interior Department can appeal to the 2nd Circuit Appeals Court and, ultimately, to the U.S. Supreme Court.
And an Indian casino in Fort Smith, Ark., would result in lost tax dollars for the state and would defy the will of the people, who have twice voted against legal gambling, Gov. Mike Beebe said.
Beebe told the Associated Press he plans to inform the U.S. Department of Interior of his opposition to a proposal by the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians to open a casino in Fort Smith.
“What’s on record is what was already (there) from the previous administration,” Beebe told the Associated Press, referring to a letter of protest to federal officials sent by former Gov. Mike Huckabee.
The tribe has petitioned the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs for permission to open a casino on land north of the city’s River Park. The tribe wants to build a $131 million hotel and casino.
“There are a lot of ancillary problems that go with casino gambling, and certainly in this proposal I think it provides a whole lot of tax revenue loss because it’s tax-free,” Beebe told the news service.