Chickasaw Nation announces casino at popular Oklahoma lake

The Chickasaw Nation owns and operates the WinStar World Casino and Resort, in Thackerville, Oklahoma. Photo from Facebook The Chickasaw Nation wants to open a casino resort at a popular lake in Oklahoma.

Plans call for a hotel, a restaurant, a gift shop and a casino with up to 300 gaming machines at Lake Texoma. The development will occur on 50 acres, which the tribe just acquired from the state for $4.2 million.

"We believe this project will help launch a transformation of this area into a major tourism and recreation attraction,” Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a press release. “We look forward to working with the state on a project we expect to have a positive impact on jobs and our economy for decades to come.”

The project depends on approval of a land-into-trust application for the site. The property falls within Chickasaw Nation and Choctaw Nation territory and it's located near the Texas border, an area crucial for both tribes' gaming enterprises.

The Chickasaws already operate the Texoma Casino just a short distance to the west of the lake. And the Choctaws operate a casino in Durant, about 14 miles east of the lake.

Generally, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act bars casinos on land placed in trust after 1988. But an exception in Section 20 of the law allows gaming on properties located within the boundaries a former reservation in Oklahoma.

The Chickasaws have utilized the exception repeatedly to expand their gaming empire -- back in 2003, Indianz.Com counted 11 facilities on newly acquired lands. The tribe now operates more casinos than any other in Oklahoma or the United States.

The tribe also enjoys a close relationship with the local Bureau of Indian Affairs and regional BIA office. In the past, the agency has approved the tribe's land-into-trust applications after less than a month of review. In one instance, it looked like approval only took a day.

But after Indianz.Com and other Oklahoma tribes whose applications weren't treated in a similar fashion raised questions about the practice, the BIA began to take a closer look at the situation. As a result, one of the Chickasaw Nation's land-into-trust applications has sat in limbo in the agency's Washington, D.C., office for more than a decade.

Despite the scrutiny, Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), just last month said the BIA was still treating some Oklahoma tribes unfairly when it comes to the land-into-trust process. At the same time, he expressed opposition to a bill that could help all tribes restore their homelands quicker.

Section 20 of IGRA contains a handful of exceptions that allow tribes to open casinos on land placed in trust after 1988. In addition to the provision affecting Oklahoma, the exceptions apply to newly recognized tribes, tribes that were restored to federal recognition, tribes with land claim settlements and tribes that acquire land in their "last recognized reservation"

But the Oklahoma exception is unique in that it can be used repeatedly and without much restriction. Newly recognized or restored tribes, on the other hand, must submit land-into-trust applications with a certain time limit and must demonstrate ties to the proposed gaming site.

The land claim exception is extremely rare because tribes face huge legal and political obstacles in securing a land claim settlement in the first place. Only three tribes, including one whose headquarters are in Oklahoma, are operating casinos on such land.

The "last recognized reservation" is even more rare. The Quapaw Tribe, whose headquarters are also located in Oklahoma, appears to be the only one to have utilized the exception although the state of Kansas is fighting it in court.

Read More on the Story:
Chickasaws Plan a Hotel-Casino at Lake Texoma After Failed Attempt to Privatize State Resort (StateImpact Oklahoma 10/28)
Chickasaw Nation to develop casino at Lake Texoma (NonDoc 10/27)
Chickasaw Nation to take over former Pointe Vista development (KXII 10/27)
Chickasaw Nation plans resort hotel, casino on Lake Texoma (The Oklahoman 10/27)

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