Tribes seeking casinos face questions about land-into-trust

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar is placing clouds over Indian gaming, tribal leaders were told on Tuesday.

Only tribes that were "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934 can follow the land-into-trust process, the high court ruled in February 2009. Although gaming wasn't at issue in the case, the decision is being used as a tool to stop new casino developments.

In one case involving the Big Lagoon Rancheria, the state of California is arguing that the tribe wasn't under federal jurisdiction in 1934. The goal is to prevent the tribe from negotiating a Class III gaming compact, according to John Dossett, the general counsel for the National Congress of American Indians.

"It's the kind of thing all tribes should be concerned about," Dossett said at the organization's 2012 executive council winter session in Washington, D.C. "The state could use the Carcieri decision as a weapon."

In another case, gaming opponents are using the Carcieri decision to fight a land-into-trust application for the involving the Cowlitz Tribe of Washington. The plaintiffs include local governments and groups that are opposed to the tribe's proposed casino.

But the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Oregon are also challenging the Cowlitz application. The Grand Ronde fear a new gaming operation in the region could threaten its existing casino.

A fix to the Carcieri decision could put an end to these types of litigation, tribal leaders have argued. But Congress has failed to take action despite support from the Obama administration and lawmakers from both parties.