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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Judge lets Kansas join dispute over tribal land

By ROXANA HEGEMAN
Associated Press

The state of Kansas received permission Thursday to join the legal fight over the Wyandotte Nation’s efforts to build a casino in Park City, a case that pits American Indian sovereignty against the state’s economic interest in controlling gambling.

U.S. Magistrate Judge David Waxse let Kansas intervene in a federal lawsuit filed by the tribe, saying it is “abundantly clear” that Kansas has an interest in the outcome of the litigation. The judge noted Kansas now has taxing, regulatory and legal authority over the land where the tribe hopes to build.

The Wyandotte Nation filed its lawsuit last year to force the Interior Department to accept into trust a tract of Park City land the tribe bought in 1992. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows tribes to conduct gambling only on Indian lands, defined as land within its reservation or held in trust by the United States.

Wyandotte Nation, formerly known as the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma, contends that after it received federal recognition in 1978, it needed to reacquire lands lost as a result of “failed federal policies.” The Wyandotte Nation contends it bought the Park City land using money Congress set aside to buy property to put into trust for the tribe’s benefit.

Attorneys for the tribe and state did not immediately return messages left for comment.

“The practical impact of this litigation could be to decimate Kansas’ sovereign interest over the Park City Tract entirely,” Waxse wrote.

Waxse concluded the state’s interest in having authority over people and land within its territorial boundaries was a “significant and legally protectable interest,” adding the court need not consider whether the state’s interest in preventing the establishment of a casino that would compete with the state-operated casino was sufficient to justify intervention.

Kansas granted Peninsula Gaming the exclusive right to operate a casino in south-central Kansas, where it recently opened the Kansas Star Casino just 25 miles from where the tribe wants to build its casino.

While the Wyandotte Nation argues in its lawsuit that federal law compels the Interior Department to accept the land into trust, while Kansas claims the exact opposite: that the law prohibits the trust acquisition. So while tribe is seeking a court order compelling the Interior Department to accept land into trust, the state is asking that the Interior Department be barred from accepting it.

The Interior Department did not oppose the state’s request to join in the case, though it does not concede its claims. The tribe had opposed the move by the state to join the lawsuit.

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