TAHLEQUAH – The United Keetoowah Band’s casino in Tahlequah may have to down its shutters on Monday, the 30th July, if and only if the federal government provides a last minute breather to the facility. In fact, the casino has been engaged in court battles and government red tape since the last more than twenty years. The senior assistant Oklahoma attorney general, Neal Leader said that no body is aware of the decision of the government that is expected on Monday while the attorneys of the tribe in Washington, D.C. and Tahlequah and Oklahoma City are busy working on the issue. Leader has been in constant touch with them. An order of a federal judge on tenth of this month revealed that if Keetoowahs could not obtain trust status for the land by Monday, it had to shut down.
Leader expressed that if the decision of the federal government is in their favor that is well and good. However, if it goes against them, they would prefer to down the shutters voluntarily on the 30th midnight as they intend redecoration & remodeling at the initial stage while they are hopeful for a favorable decision. Land is taken into trust for the tribes by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, while the eligibility of the land for gaming is determined by the National Indian Gaming Commission. As stated by a spokeswoman of BIA, no information regarding the last-minute rulings was available with her.
The casino has 140 people on its rolls and facilitates five hundred machines. The tribe obtained $13.4 million from the casino during one year. Leader said that the casino provides Class II bingo-based machines to the gamblers. Till now an amount of $33,000 has been paid by the Keetoowahs to the state towards damages as per an agreement that entitles a total payment of $2 million if gaming is continued at the site or at any other place. During the 1906 Cherokee Nation rolls, the Keetoowahs claimed to be one of the two successor governments and had been recognized as a tribe in the year 1946. Gambling facilities were started by the tribe on the land, purchased by it in Tahlequah in 1991 and the facility was inspected several years by the National Gaming Commission that collected fees too as per records. Various legal reasons are quoted by the tribe in favor of its claim for the existing 2.5-acre parcel to be Indian land, including that it is a former reservation. However as per the records, property tax on the site has been paid by the tribe and it has also requested for a zoning variance and help from the police in Tahlequah. Till 25th May, 2000, nothing under the federal law was inquired by the gaming commission about the land to be Indian. It said that state officials are to deal with the state gambling laws. The commission refused to accept fees from the tribe and also declined to regulate the casino in any manner. The then-Cherokee County District Attorney Dianne Barker Harrold refused to go ahead with investigation of the matter in 2002 and other two officials also ended up working for the tribe. Records show that next year an order passed by John Garrett, the then-Cherokee County District Judge declared the casino to be on Indian land and the Oklahoma did not have any jurisdiction there. The order came in response to the tribe’s request for the same and no notice was given to the state as the judges of the state are generally not involved to take decisions about Indian land status. In 2006, a motion for moving the matter to the federal court was filed by the state. An order banning Garrett’s initial ban was issued by White who instructed further investigation and filing of complete records by the National Indian Gaming Commission. Garrett did not go for re-election this year but he acted as Supreme Court Justice on behalf of Keetoowah tribe instead of the existing justice. The activities of the casino came to halt for five years, i.e., between 20006 and 2011 as federal court had to await the investigation report of the commission that kept on asking for more details. Leader expressed dissatisfaction over the commission for taking much time for disposal of issues. Last year’s letter by Scott Pruitt, the Attorney General; asking the commission the reasons for unwanted delay for the casino’s case in the context of publication of Tulsa World also refers in the matter.
After many months, the matter was referred by the commission to the state officials for action, with its ruling that the Keetoowah casino does not exist on Indian land. However, any action was prevented till an agreement between the tribe and state was reached upon last month. There were no plans for the tribe to go ahead with gaming activities on another piece of land, situated at a distance of two miles south of Tahlequah casino. As announced by BIA, that 76-acre piece of land was being taken into trust for the tribe last year that would prove a great win for the tribe. Leader expressed that matter was being dragged unnecessarily in the administrative acts. He added that the trust status remains in an indeterminate state whereas several extension requests are always granted.
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