Construction continues on a new Chickasaw Nation gaming facility in Terral, Oklahoma. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Litigation | Openings & Closings

Comanche Nation sees setback in effort to stop new Chickasaw Nation casino


The Comanche Nation has been dealt a setback in its effort to stop the Chickasaw Nation from opening another casino in Oklahoma.

On January 19, the last full day of the Obama administration, the Bureau of Indian Affairs approved one of the Chickasaw Nation's land-into-trust applications. The acquisition enabled the tribe to break ground on a $10 million facility in Terral, not far from the Texas border.

The Comanche Nation went to court and sought a preliminary injunction in hopes of preventing the new project from moving forward. But a federal judge denied the request on Monday, saying the tribe was unlikely to succeed in its attempts to undermine the Obama-era decision.

The Comanches appear to be concerned about the "competitive impact of the Chickasaw casino on plaintiff’s own casino operation. Such economic impacts, standing alone, are ordinarily not a basis for claim" under federal environmental law, Judge Joe Heaton wrote in the decision. Heaton also said the tribe's other claims, which are linked to the Indian Reorganization Act and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, are likely to fail.

Competition is indeed a concern, as the Comanches operate the Red River Hotel and Casino about 50 miles from the Chickasaw site. The tribe also has land about 10 miles from Terral where it hopes to open a casino, according to the lawsuit.

Indianz.Com on Google Maps: Chickasaw Nation Gaming Facilities

The Chickasaw Nation, on the other hand, operates nearly two dozen casinos, more than any other tribe in Oklahoma and in the U.S. Most of the facilities are located on lands that were placed in trust after 1988.

Generally, IGRA bars casinos on land acquired after 1988. But an exception in Section 20 of the law allows gaming on properties located within the boundaries a former reservation in Oklahoma.

In the case of the Terral site, the Obama administration concluded that the land fell within the former reservation, Heaton noted in his ruling.

The exception, though, is applied unevenly, according to the Comanches and other tribes that often wait years for answers on their land-into-trust applications. Such delays never seem to affect the Chickasaw Nation, these other leaders have said.

"There's great inconsistency and, to date, the process is unclear to me," Secretary Ryan Zinke, the leader of the Department of the Interior, said when the issue was brought up at a Congressional hearing on March 8.

"I'll get to the bottom of it," Zinke said. Since he joined President Trump's Cabinet in March, Interior has erected more hurdles for tribes seeking to restore their homelands.

The Trump administration held up the formal announcement of two Chickasaw Nation land-into-trust applications amid those inconsistencies. But the delay wasn't much of a concern to the Chickasaws because they broke ground in Terral in May, two months before official notices of the acquisitions were published in the Federal Register.

The BIA also appeared to move quickly on the application itself. An environmental assessment was made public in March 2016 and completed the following month, according to the court decision. The application was then approved eight months later by the outgoing Obama administration.

In contrast, the Trump administration is still holding up approval of a casino for the Shawnee Tribe for a site in a different part of Oklahoma. Even though the governor supports the project, top officials at Interior have repeatedly raised concerns in Congressional hearings about it, noting that the site is located more than 400 miles from the tribe's headquarters.

The casino in Terral is more than 125 miles from Chickasaw Nation headquarters. A visit to the site last week showed significant progress on the 36,000-square-foot facility. It's due to open sometime next year.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Comanche Nation v. Zinke.

Federal Register Notices:
Land Acquisitions; The Chickasaw Nation [Terral Site] (July 18, 2017)
Land Acquisitions; The Chickasaw Nation [Willis Site] (July 18, 2017)

Related Stories:
Comanche Nation sues over last-minute approval of Chickasaw Nation casino (August 21, 2017)
Oklahoma tribes won casino approvals on last day of Obama administration (July 19, 2017)
Chickasaw Nation breaks ground on $10M casino by Texas border (May 25, 2017)