The Downstream Casino Resort in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Photo: Quapaw Tribe

Quapaw Tribe wins decision favoring restoration of homelands in Kansas

A federal appeals court has dealt a blow to the state of Kansas in its attempt to prevent the Quapaw Tribe from expanding a casino onto ancestral territory.

The tribe's Downstream Casino Resort is unique in that it sits on land in three states. The gaming portion is on trust land in Oklahoma while the parking lot and other facilities are located in Kansas and Missouri.

But when the tribe announced plans to expand the casino into the Kansas portion, the state responded with a lawsuit. At issue is a letter from the National Indian Gaming Commission which said the land could be used for gaming.

And while the letter indeed supports the tribe's right to engage in gaming on the 124-acre parcel in Kansas, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said the state could not challenge it. It's merely "advisory" in nature, and it doesn't bind the federal government to any particular position, a three-judge panel ruled on Tuesday.

"In short, the letter merely expresses an advisory, non-binding opinion, without any legal effect on the status quo ante," Judge Carlos F. Lucero wrote in the 18-page decision.

An aerial view of the Downstream Casino Resort. Gaming activities occur on trust land on the Oklahoma side of the border and a parking lot can be seen on the Kansas side. Another portion of the facility, not seen here, extends into Missouri. Image: Google Earth

Despite the legal victory, the tribe has yet to move forward with the $15 million expansion that was announced in December 2014. The state has refused to negotiate a Class III gaming compact and dropped a lawsuit after the state asserted sovereign immunity. Class III games are already authorized on the Oklahoma portion.

Still, the NIGC's opinion remains noteworthy. It appears to be the first time in the history of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that a tribe has won the right to engage in gaming on land that was part of its "last recognized reservation."

For the Quapaws, the reservation in Kansas is known as the "Quapaw Strip." The tribe acquired 124 acres there in 2012.

Generally, IGRA bars gaming on lands acquired after 1988. But the NIGC's letter said the tribe qualified for an exception in Section 20 of the law that applies to a "last recognized reservation."

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Kansas v. Zinke [NIGC].

10th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Kansas v. Zinke (June 27, 2017)

Relevant Documents:
NIGC Indian Land Opinion For 'Quapaw Strip' in Kansas (November 2014)

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