A sign at the headquarters of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Photo: UKB

United Keetoowah Band eyes casino amid questions about land

The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians is proposing a casino amid questions about its homelands in northeastern Oklahoma.

The tribe will present the project to the city council in Enid on Tuesday, The Enid News reported. Beyond an agenda for the special study session which states the location of the proposed facility, there is little information about it.

"I don't know if that would somehow become tribal or tribal trust land. I really don't know any of that," City Manager Jerald Gilbert told the paper.

Enid is more than 180 miles from tribal headquarters in Tahlequah. The tribe once operated a casino there until it was forced to close as a result of litigation initiated by the Cherokee Nation.

The Cherokees argue that their consent is required before land within the historic Cherokee Reservation can be placed in trust for any other tribe. The Bureau of Indian Affairs disagreed with that contention and began approving land-into-trust applications for the United Keetoowah Band during the Obama era.

The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians was forced to close its casino in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in August 2013 because the tribe was not authorized to conduct gaming at the site. Photo: Keetoowah Cherokee Casino

A federal judge, however, sided with the Cherokees in a May 2017 decision which said the land-into-trust regulations require the "Cherokee Nation’s written consent and full consideration of the jurisdictional conflicts between the Cherokee Nation and the UKB and the resulting administrative burdens the acquisition would place on the region."

The United Keetoowah Band and the federal government have since taken the case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral arguments in Cherokee Nation v. Zinke, No. 17-7044, took place on May 16 but a decision has not yet been issued.

Regardless of the outcome, the United Keetoowah Band would not be barred from seeking trust land in Enid because the case only affects land-into-trust applications within the historic Cherokee Reservation in the northeastern part of Oklahoma.

Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a casino must be located on "Indian lands." That definition covers any land within a reservation, any land held in trust or any land held in restricted status.

The law otherwise contains a general prohibition for casinos on land acquired after 1988. There are exceptions to this rule in Section 20 of IGRA, including one that applies to former reservations in Oklahoma, but the site in Enid does not appear to qualify for any of them.

That means the United Keetoowah Band would have to pursue the project under the two-part determination provisions of IGRA. The process requires approval from the BIA and the state governor.

Though two-part determination projects are often costly, controversial and time-consuming at the state level, that's not always the case in Oklahoma. In the last few years, the Kaw Nation and the Shawnee Tribe have easily won approval to open casinos after following the process.

In the case of the Shawnees, the tribe chose a site more than 400 miles from its headquarters in northeastern Oklahoma. That's because the Cherokee Nation's consent would have been required for a site closer to home.

Read More on the Story
Enid City Commission to hear casino proposal on Tuesday (The Enid News September 17, 2018)

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
United Keetoowah Band won't talk about plans for potential casino (December 1, 2016)
United Keetoowah Band faces opposition at potential casino site (November 29, 2016)