Tahlequah Daily Press

August 27, 2013

UKB loses casino stay request

Closure of the facility appears all but inevitable

By TEDDYE SNELL
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — tsnell@tahlequahdailypress.com

The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma on Monday learned it has lost its request to stay an injunction during an appeal to prevent its casino from closing on Friday.

Judges Paul Kelly and Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Court of Appeals 10th Circuit ruled Monday the UKB failed to prove its likelihood of success upon appeal. The court also said the tribe couldn’t prove it would suffer irreparable harm if the stay isn’t granted, or that public interest would be harmed, according to court documents.

On Aug. 12, the Cherokee Nation was granted its request for an injunction and temporary restraining order to prevent the Bureau of Indian Affairs from placing into trust the 2.5 acres upon which the UKB Casino sits. The UKB has appealed that order.

The Cherokee Nation is bound by its Constitution to prevent any other tribe from taking land into trust within its 14-county jurisdiction.

Trust status for the land is a requirement of an agreement entered into by the UKB and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office to keep the business open, and was to be acquired no later than Friday, Aug. 30.

According to Diane Clay, spokeswoman for Pruitt’s office, the appeal is moving forward, but the deadline remains the same.

“Per the agreement with the state, the casino must close at midnight, Friday, Aug. 30, if the land is not taken into trust or the tribe does not receive other relief from the court,” said Clay in an emailed statement. “If the casino closes, they can keep the machines in the building for 30 days until the companies that own them can pick them up.”

Thousands of visitors are expected in Tahlequah this weekend for the Cherokee National Holiday and Labor Day weekend. The UKB has already announced its offices will be closed Friday, Aug. 30 through Monday, Sept. 2.

Last June, the UKB and Pruitt’s office signed an agreement requiring trust status for the land and payment of $2 million in damages for operating the business without a compact.

“If the deadline is reached without the land being placed into trust, the payments to the state will cease,” said Clay. “To date, the UKB has paid nearly $600,000 to the state.”

The casino at 2450 S. Muskogee Ave. has about 150 employees, and fund the paychecks of more than 70 government employees.

On July 31, CN Principal Chief Bill John Baker offered the UKB a couple of options to keep its gaming operations afloat. According to CN Communications Director Amanda Clinton, the offers are still open.

The first option is for the Department of the Interior to take the existing plot of land into trust on behalf of the Cherokee Nation, and for the CN to immediately sign a 99-year lease with the UKB, with an automatic renewal clause, which would allow the UKB to continue gaming operations. Under that pact, the UKB would retain the profits and its employee base.

The second option is to arrange for the UKB gaming facility to move its existing operation to an acreage of land the CN already has in trust for gaming purposes near the junction of Highways 82 and 62, south of Tahlequah. Under this option, the CN would sign a 99-year renewable lease for the UKB to conduct a comparable gaming operation to its current facility.