OKC bingo hall raid leads to call for verification

Monday, June 17th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An Oklahoma City raid has led national gaming officials to require that all Oklahoma Indian tribes prove their casinos are operating on tribal land.

Montie R. Deer, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, said he sent letters this month to all Oklahoma tribes asking them for verification.

The request was made because of the state's criminal prosecution of employees of the Apache Oak Cliff Indian Center Bingo Hall in southeast Oklahoma City.

``The Apache case is kind of what caused that to come to a head,'' Deer told The Daily Oklahoman while in Oklahoma City last week attending the annual Sovereignty Symposium.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows gambling only on Indian land, which includes land held in trust by the U.S. Department of Interior for benefit of a tribe.

Oklahoma City police raided the hall last month, and felony commercial gambling charges have been filed in Oklahoma County against five people.

The proprietors contend their bingo hall was operating legally on Indian land, and are suing in federal court to block state prosecution.

A political subdivision of the Apache Tribe bought the property in January and was seeking to place it in trust status with the Interior Department, the lawsuit states.

The Apache situation is no different from the United Keetoowah Tribe's casino in Tahlequah and a Creek Nation gaming center in Tulsa, the lawsuit states. Both are conducting gambling on land bought by the tribes but not currently held in trust status, the lawsuit alleges.

Oklahoma County prosecutors say simple ownership of a piece of land by an Indian or Indian tribe does not make it Indian trust land. They also allege blackjack was being played at the Apache bingo hall, which violates state law.

Blackjack tournaments at Indian casinos are legal, according to a previous opinion of the National Indian Gaming Commission. But if a gaming center isn't on Indian trust land, it's bound by state gambling laws, which permit only horse racing, charitable bingo and pull-tab games.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act bars tribes from operating casinos on lands taken in trust after 1988, the year the act was passed by Congress. But there are exceptions.

In Oklahoma, an exception would be land within the tribe's original boundaries, Deer said.

Deer said he expects to find the Apache case is an ``anomaly'' in Oklahoma. But he did confirm the commission has received complaints about the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma conducting gambling on non-Indian land.

Tracy Burris, gaming commissioner for the Chickasaw Nation, said he is not aware of the complaints. He declined further comment.

The Chickasaw Nation has more electronic gambling machines in Oklahoma than any other tribe, according to a report released last week by The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. As of Dec. 31, the Chickasaws had 1,353 gambling machines in the state, according to the report.

Oklahoma tribes operate 9,104 electronic gambling machines in the state.