United Keetoowah Band Works Against Deadline To Keep Casino Open

Wednesday, August 28th 2013, 6:46 pm
By: News On 6

The clock is ticking for the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. The tribe may be forced to close the casino it has run in Tahlequah for nearly 25 years.

"I kind of feel sad that they have to close," said Tahlequah resident Lucas Wildcat.

Wildcat used to work at the UKB's only casino. He said he knows some of the 150 current employees, who could be impacted by a court's ruling to uphold an injunction by the state.

"That's the only job they have to support their family, and I'd hate to see them lose their job," Wildcat said.

The controversy surrounding the casino goes back over a decade and stems from the land the building sits on. In order to operate a casino, the land must be taken into trust by the government. Although the UKB owns the land, it was never put in trust, so the Cherokee Nation says it has exclusive jurisdiction over the land, and it wants the casino located there to close.

7/23/2013 Related Story: Cherokee Nation Files Suit To Close United Keetoowah Band Casino

"Everybody likes to go there, likes to win money," said Brittany Vanbuskirk, of Tahlequah.

Vanbuskirk is one of the thousands who visit the casino every year, helping provide the tribe's primary source of income.

She also has family ties to the Keetoowahs.

"They help their children out really good, so if they lose money, it might not be helping them out very good," Vanbuskirk said.

The United Keetoowah Band released the following statement: "The administration is working to resolve the situation. We will continue on with government to provide jobs, benefits, scholarships, vouchers and whatever else we can for our people."

The state has given the UKB until Friday night to close the doors or put the land in trust, something they've tried before unsuccessfully.

The Cherokee Nation has also offered the UKB two options to remain open. One would be to allow the Cherokee Nation to put the land in its own trust, after which they would then lease the land back. The other option would be to open a new casino on Cherokee Nation land.

It's still unknown what step tribal leaders will take next, but a spokesperson for the UKB says they are working together with the Cherokee Nation, and that both options presented to them are still on the table.