The high limit room at the Gun Lake Casino in Wayland, Michigan. Photo: Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians

Supreme Court sets November 7 arguments in long-running land-into-trust case

The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in a long-running gaming land case.

The justices will hear Patchak v. Zinke on November 7, according to Docket No. 16-498. It's the lone Indian law case currently on the docket.

But while the dispute arose out of a land-into-trust application for the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, the case isn't really about the application. At issue is whether Congress can protect the tribe's Gun Lake Casino -- where the second phase of a $76 million expansion debuted last week -- from litigation.

So far, the courts have upheld the power of Congress to take action. The Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act, which became law in 2014, was written to ensure that the site of the casino in Wayland, Michigan, is in trust despite the claims of a non-Indian man who lives three miles away.

If the Supreme Court finds the law to be unconstitutional, there is little chance the facility will be shut down. It's been operating without incident for almost seven years despite the uncertainty, which included a prior trip to the high court in 2012.

But a negative ruling could hinder tribes in similar situations. Three similar land affirmation bills -- H.R.597, H.R.1491 and H.R.1532 -- are pending in the current session of Congress alone so Indian Country is paying close attention.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on May 1, just as the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band, also known as the Gun Lake Tribe, was debuting the first phase of the 73,000 square-foot expansion expansion. It included a 300-seat buffet, additional slots and table games, along with a larger entertainment stage.

The second phase features a slots and table games high-limit room and bar. The tribe officially welcomed visitors to the expansion on Friday.

“We’re thrilled to see the second phase of the expansion completed,” said Brent Arena, vice president and general manager of the casino. “These are additional amenities that our guests have asked for and we are happy to provide, as we continue to grow, due to the support of our guests, community, and team members.”

And yet another project is on the way -- a 475,000 square-foot parking structure with space for 1,200 vehicles. Construction has already begun, with an opening expected in the summer of 2018.

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Patchak v. Jewell (July 15, 2016)

U.S. Supreme Court Decision:
Patchak v. Jewell (June 18, 2012)

Prior D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Patchak v. Salazar (January 21, 2011)

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