Compacts | Litigation
Judge orders Indian land determination on casino

Citing an administrative record "lacking in substance," a federal judge in Oklahoma today ordered the Interior Department and the National Indian Gaming Commission to determine whether land owned by the Chickasaw Nation qualifies for gaming.

The tribe signed a compact with the state to conduct off-track betting at several locations. But the Bureau of Indian Affairs never determined whether a particular site could be used for gaming, Judge David L. Russell said in a 10-page opinion.

"The court concludes that because it is not apparent from the administrative record that the proper determinations were made with regard to the Chickasaw off-track wagering compact, that this matter should be remanded to the Secretary for further proceedings consistent with this opinion," Russell wrote.

The land at issue was taken into trust after 1988. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, that means it can't be used for gaming unless it meets one of the exceptions in Section 20 of the law.

The Chickasaw Nation claimed a former reservation exception that applies to Oklahoma tribes. But Russell said there was "insufficient" evidence in the record to support the claim.

"The court concurs, and again, concludes that such a finding was necessary before the Compact could be approved, and that in the absence of such a determination, the approval of the Compact was arbitrary and capricious," he wrote.

This is the second time in recent months that a federal judge has ordered an Indian lands determination. In New York, the NIGC was taken to task for failing to determine whether the Seneca Nation could open a casino on land taken into trust after 1998.

The lawsuit was brought by the Apache Tribe after the BIA approved the compact in March 2004. The tribe says it was not consulted on the Chickasaw gaming site, which lies within 50 miles of an Apache casino.

Get the Decision:
Apache Tribe v. US (July 18, 2007)