FROM THE ARCHIVE

Okla. tribal leader insists casinos are legal

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FRIDAY, JUNE 28, 2002

Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby defended the legality of his sprawling Oklahoma casino empire this week against complaints of improper Bureau of Indian Affairs land approvals.

Although records for at least seven tribal gaming facilities could not be located by sources close to an ongoing investigation, Anoatubby said the BIA has confirmed all are operating on Indian land. "We would not operate on anything but trust land," he said in an interview.

"We have followed the law," he added. "We're legal."

Anoatubby was responding to concerns raised by Montie R. Deer, the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission who wants all Oklahoma tribes to prove their casinos are on trust land.

According to Anoatubby, he was given written assurances for the tribe's 14 existing casinos. A land-into-trust application for a new facility is pending before the BIA, he noted.

Sources familiar with the matter said the probe centers on older casinos dating to 1988. The year is significant because federal law prohibits gaming on land taken into trust unless certain conditions are met.

One source said the tribe believes the parcels in question meet one of the exceptions. Gaming can occur if the land is located within a former reservation in Oklahoma, according to federal law.

Another source close to the investigation, however, said some of the approvals were highly unusual. Local BIA officials took the land into trust without conducting a proper review of the impacts of gaming, the source said.

One BIA official based his approval for economic development purposes, according to the source. This would allow the tribe to circumvent a more strict gaming analysis.

Anoatubby denied any suggestion of impropriety. "We have not tried to go around the rules," he said.

But Anoatubby admitted some of the land wasn't used for gaming initially. He pointed out one facility which started as a tobacco shop and was later converted to a casino. He also said some land sat in trust for years before any development occurred.

In either situation, a BIA official in Washington, D.C., said the change to gaming would have required approval. Anoatubby said he wasn't "aware of any procedure" to do that.

"We rely on the BIA to tell us what we need to do to put the land into trust," he said.

A review of existing records by sources close to the investigation confirmed the practice Anoatubby mentioned. But an anomaly was detected for at least two facilities where casinos were opened almost as soon as the land was taken into trust.

The Chickasaw Nation was one of several tribes which defied an NIGC order to shut down a controversial casino game. A federal judge allowed the machine to continue running while a lawsuit against the NIGC makes its way through the court system.

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

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