Oklahoma tribe seeks to overturn casino ruling in Kansas

Tuesday, December 7th 2004, 6:23 am
By: News On 6

(AP) The Oklahoma Indian tribe that owns the closed 7th Street Casino in Kansas City, Kan., has challenged a federal agency's September ruling that gambling on the site is unlawful.

The Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma in October sued the National Indian Gaming Commission in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Officials in the Kansas attorney general's office learned of both legal developments Monday — the September ruling and the October lawsuit — when it was disclosed that the case could be transferred to a Kansas district court that is handling related matters.

“This caught us off guard,” said Whitney Watson, a spokesman for Attorney General Phill Kline. Watson said the federal agency's decision “pretty much says it all.”

The commission's unannounced September decision essentially backed arguments advanced by the state for years that the tribal-owned land in downtown Kansas City, Kan., was not eligible for gambling under federal tribal law.

The tribe's lawsuit challenges the agency's finding and seeks to have it overturned and the land declared eligible for gambling.

In court documents, the tribe said the casino is essential to its financial well-being. “Income derived from the gaming facility … supports a variety of tribal government services and programs, such as housing, education, medical care and public safety,” the tribe said.

Kansas officials have challenged the land's de facto tribal reservation status since it was granted by the federal commission in the mid-1990s.

In August 2003 the tribe defied city and state officials and opened the small casino in several mobile building units parked beside the tribe's Huron Cemetery in downtown Kansas City, Kan., and across the street from City Hall.

When the federal agency earlier this year appeared poised to overturn its decision on the land's reservation status, Kline ordered the casino raided and shut down. The state seized 152 slot machines and about $500,000 in cash.

The tribe sued, claiming the state's raid was an unlawful breach of tribal sovereignty.

That case is pending before U.S. District Judge Julie A. Robinson of Topeka. A key issue in that legal action is the land's status as a tribal reservation qualified for casino gambling — the same issue the tribe has challenged in the federal agency's September ruling.

Earlier this year Robinson ruled that Kline had no authority to raid and close the casino but also said the gambling parlor must remain closed until all other legal issues in the case are resolved.

The tribe also has appealed Robinson's order. That issue is pending before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Tribal attorney Conly J. Schulte said Monday that the Denver appeal is now slated for a mediation hearing in January, opening a door to a possible settlement of the tribal gambling case about to enter its 10th year in court.

Kline said Monday that he was not optimistic that mediation would be fruitful.

In its final order, the federal commission said the tribe could not claim a historic tie to the land because it occupied the site for only 12 years during the 19th century. The agency noted that tribal headquarters have been established in Oklahoma since 1855.

There are limits, the agency said, on what historic lands tribes may claim centuries later.

If the Wyandotte claim was proper, the agency said, it could similarly claim lands along its path of migration over the years and also build casinos in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri.

Federal Indian gaming law, the agency said, did not envision such scenarios for “any lands that the tribe conceivably once occupied throughout its history.”