Jonodev O. Chaudhuri, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, serves as the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission. Photo by Andrew Bahl for Indianz.Com

Kialegee Tribal Town warned not to engage in gaming on allotment in Oklahoma

The Kialegee Tribal Town is firing back at the National Indian Gaming Commission after the federal agency's top attorney questioned plans for a casino.

In a June 21 letter, the NIGC's general counsel said the tribe lacks jurisdiction over an allotment in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. That would mean the site can't be used for a casino under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

"Operating on Indian lands ineligible for gaming by the town is a substantial violation of IGRA and NIGC regulations," general counsel Michael Hoenig wrote in the letter, the contents of which were first reported by Mvskoke Media.

But the tribe's attorney is accusing the NIGC is jumping the gun. Penny Coleman -- who held Hoenig's post before she retired in 2010 -- gave a statement to Mvskoke Media that said more information will be submitted to bolster the tribe's claim to jurisdiction.

Coleman also questioned the integrity of Chairman Jonodev Chaudhuri, pointing out that he is a citizen of the Muscogee Nation, whose leaders oppose the Kialegee casino.

"While the Tribal Town was greatly disappointed to learn that NIGC Chairman Chaudhuri, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, declined to recuse himself despite his clear conflict of interest on this matter, we are optimistic that the tribe’s position will prevail," Coleman said in the statement to Mvskoke Media.

Chaudhuri might indeed be required to recuse himself if the matter ever made it to the level of the commission. But so far that does not appear to be the case -- despite warning the Kialegee Tribal Town not to open a casino, Hoenig's letter is not considered a final agency decision so it did not require the chairman's input.

And even if Hoenig issues an Indian lands opinion after the tribe submits more information, that would not be considered a final agency decision either. During her 16 years in the top legal posts at NIGC, Coleman wrote similar letters and she described them as merely "advisory" in nature in testimony to Congress in 2005.

"Sometimes our opinions confirm that a specific parcel is Indian lands," Coleman said in her written testimony. "Sometimes they warn a tribe that we do not consider the gaming to be legal."

The allotment at issue is owned by a citizen of the Muscogee Nation who is opening a restaurant on his land. But the Kialegee Tribal Town has made no secret of its desire to add gaming machines to the business, and a development group associated with the effort has advertised dozens of casino-related jobs on Indeed.Com.

The Kialegee Tribal Town is led by Jeremiah Hobia, whose title roughly translates in English as "king." The Muscogee Nation is seeking to revoke his citizenship and bar him from seeking office in their government, Mvskoke Media reported.

Read More on the Story:
NIGC issues letter to Kialegee regarding facility in Broken Arrow (Mvskoke Media August 10, 2017)
MCN files petition to remove Hobia from citizenship, Council candidacy (Mvskoke Media August 10, 2017)

National Indian Gaming Commission Indian Land Opinions:
July 8, 2013 | June 8, 2012 | May 24, 2012

10th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Oklahoma v. Hobia (December 22, 2014)

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