FROM THE ARCHIVE

BIA land approvals for casinos questioned

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TUESDAY, JUNE 11, 2002

At least one tribe's sprawling casino empire has been called into question by federal gaming regulators concerned about land approval policies at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The National Indian Gaming Commission is looking into the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, chief of staff Richard R. Schiff confirmed. The goal of the probe is to determine if the tribe's casinos are located on Indian land, a key requirement under federal law, he said.

Schiff, however, was quick to point out that the tribe is not accused of any wrongdoing. "We're just asking," he said.

But NIGC Chairman Montie R. Deer hinted of implications throughout Indian Country. At a tribal sovereignty conference in Oklahoma City yesterday, he stressed the need for gaming facilities to undergo a comprehensive analysis before they can operate legally.

At issue is a special land approval process required after the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) was passed in 1988. The law prohibits casinos on land taken into trust unless certain exceptions, including provisions affecting tribes in Oklahoma, are met.

"The history of Indian land in Oklahoma is somewhat unique," said Schiff. "Each tribe has a more or less unique historical relationship with the United States and with their land."

With regard to the Chickasaw Nation, nearly a dozen Class II facilities offering bingo, pull-tabs and other games are under review. All were opened after the 1988 cut-off date, which requires the analysis Deer referenced. But the NIGC questions whether the Bureau of Indian Affairs followed the law.

BIA's Office of Indian Gaming Management, headed by George Skibine, is charged with conducting the reviews under section 20 of IGRA. Through a BIA spokesperson, Skibine said the Chickasaw Nation has one land-into-trust application pending but didn't provide information on the tribe's older operations.

"If they are gaming and not on Indian land, then they are subject to state law," said Schiff.

According to July 2001 Congressional testimony by outgoing Deputy Commissioner Sharon Blackwell, the BIA has approved a total of 23 reviews under section 20 of IGRA. Of these, three were cases which did not involve the Chickasaw Nation.

The tribe did not provide comment for this article.

The fiscal year 2003 budget for the BIA's gaming office is about $900,000. Eight full-time employees report to Skibine, who reports to Blackwell.

Relevant Links:
National Indian Gaming Commission - http://www.nigc.gov
Chickasaw Nation - http://www.chickasaw.net

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