Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

July 31, 2012

Trust land status OK’d for UKB casino

TAHLEQUAH — The U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs on Tuesday granted the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma’s application to place the property on which the Keetoowah Casino is located into trust.

The decision was rendered just a few hours before the casino was ordered to be closed per an agreement between the UKB and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

“The assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs has rendered a decision today that will allow the Keetoowah Casino to remain open,” said Michael G. Rossetti, attorney for the UKB. “We appreciate our patrons’ loyalty.”

In June, the UKB and Pruitt signed an agreement requiring the tribe to pay $2 million in damages for operating the facility without a compact, and securing federal trust status for the property or cease gaming operations.

The casino at 2450 S. Muskogee Avenue has been in operation since 1986. Since its inception, a dispute has existed between the UKB and the Cherokee Nation as to whether the land can be considered for a trust designation.

In a previous report, Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree said he would file an appeal on July 31 should the BIA place land into trust for the UKB July 30.

In earlier rulings, the Cherokee Nation had been recognized as the primary tribe within the boundaries of the “former Cherokee reservation,” requiring the UKB to gain CN consent before placing land into trust.

“Consistent with this regulatory provision, the secretary has previously declined to take any lands into trust for the UKB within the boundaries of the former Cherokee reservation without the consent of the Cherokee Nation,” states Monday’s ruling by  Acting Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Michael S. Black. “The Cherokee Nation has consistently refused to grant its consent. However, now that we have determined the former reservation of the Cherokee Nation is also the former reservation of the UKB... the regulatory requirement for consent of the Cherokee Nation is no longer applicable.

“Our evaluation of the [UKB’s] request indicates that the federal requirements for acquiring this property into trust have been satisfied.”

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