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

United Keetoowah Band dealt setback in pursuit of new casino

The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians won't have the support of the city of Enid as it pursues a new casino in Oklahoma.

The tribe asked the city commission to approve two agreements for the proposed development. But the idea was shot down at a meeting on Tuesday.

"We have a legitimate opportunity to stop this thing in its tracks," Ben Ezzell, a member of the city commission, said at the meeting, The Enid News & Eagle reported.

One agreement called for the tribe to pay the city about $11.8 million over seven years, while the other would require the tribe to pay 4.6 percent of the sales of food, beverage and non-gaming goods to the city. In exchange, the city would have supported the tribe's land-into-trust application for a 5.4-acre site.

The tribe could still move forward with the application. But lack of support at the local level could affect how the Bureau of Indian Affairs reviews the project.

It also could affect whether the state ultimately signs off. The tribe is pursuing the casino under the two-part determination provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, meaning the governor's approval will be needed further down the line.

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

The tribe previously operated a casino at its headquarters in Tahlequah. But the facility had to shut down due to litigation filed 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.

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 could still seek land elsewhere in Oklahoma. That's what the Shawnee Tribe did when it won approval for a two-part determination casino more than 400 miles from its headquarters.

The Shawnees were once considered to be a part of the Cherokee Nation before its separate status was reaffirmed by Congress in 2000. The tribe would have had to secure consent from the Cherokees for a casino in or near its headquarters.

As for the United Keetoowah Band, Enid is more than 180 miles from the tribe's headquarters.

Read More on the Story
City commission denies agreement in support of casino (The Enid News & Eagle December 18, 2018)
City commission to take possible action on casino agreement (The Enid News & Eagle December 15, 2018)

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