T.The United Keetoowah Band of the Cherokees are still operating gaming operations in Tahlequah, working on property near the old casino that has been closed for several years.
“Since our home is in Tahlequah, we are still looking for a gaming facility in Tahlequah,” said UKB boss Joe Bunch. “Everything is pending in the tenth circle appeals court right now. We are still fighting for our right to gamble. It is unfortunate that people sometimes forget that we are successors in the interests of the historic Cherokee nation.”
In March 2020, the US District Court of Oklahoma ruled that the Department of the Interior could not trust the UKB with 2.03 acres of land for tribal games. The case came after a 2012 decision by the DOI Deputy Secretary to take the property in confidence. At that point, the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Entertainment argued that the decision violated previous decisions.
India’s Gambling Regulation Act prohibits gambling on properties that were trusted by DOI after 1988, unless those properties fall under certain statutory exemptions. Judge Gregory Frizzell wrote against the sectarian’s conclusion that the UKB should have received an exemption as the land is in the tribe’s previous reservation. Frizzell wrote in his conclusion that “no reservation by contract, executive order or secretarial order has ever been made for the UKB tribe”.
With the UKB hoping the ruling will be overturned, Bunch said the tribe is cleaning up the 2.03 acre property next to Walmart in preparation for “either a new casino or whatever”.
At a meeting of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council rules committee in January, CN Attorney General Sarah Hill said the UKB had notified the National Indian Gaming Commission that it intended to initiate a game at a facility in the city, the UKB had its notice however withdrawn.
Bunch said the tribe would need to apply for another license with the NIGC if they want to open a casino in town. There is currently a sign near the old casino property that reads “New Project Coming Soon …” sponsored by the UKB Corporate Board.
In January, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a tribal gambling contract the UKB signed with Governor Kevin Stitt was invalid. The judges said that the Oklahoma executive must use one of two methods to negotiate a tribal gaming pact, and that the pact advertised by Stitt contained terms different from what was allowed.
The UKB had plans to build a gaming facility in Logan County based on the contract, and Bunch said the tribe hoped to build another casino there.
“We weren’t necessarily named in the governor’s lawsuit. Federal agencies approved our contract for the same reason,” he said. “This is a positive sign for us. Again we are fighting for every opportunity we can get.”
There are 574 nationally recognized Native American tribes in the country. Bunch pointed out that the UKB is among them, and he believes attempts to prevent them from operating a gaming facility violate their sovereign rights.
“We also have certain rights,” he said. “We are a successor on behalf of the historic Cherokee Nation, and we believe we have equal powers and authority. It is a shame that people cannot see this – that there are two nationally recognized tribes in the city.”