State weighs in against Eklutna in Indian gaming casino case

(Alexandra Gutierrez/KUCB)

The State of Alaska is trying to stop the Native Village of Eklutna from opening an Indian gaming casino in Chugiak.

The Eklutna tribe filed a lawsuit in August to appeal an Interior Department decision preventing it from developing a Class II casino under Indian Gaming regulations. This week, the state asked to intervene in that case.

“The State wants to be involved because this case has the potential to impact the State’s sovereign jurisdictional, regulatory, and taxing authority interests,” Assistant Attorney General Maria Bahr said. “Only the state can adequately protect those interests.”

If Eklutna succeeds, the state Department of Law says the tribe’s casino would compete with state licensed gaming that benefits all Alaskans.

The state considers most gambling illegal, but it allows charitable gaming that benefits nonprofit organizations. State taxes on pulltabs, raffles and bingo came to $2.5 million in 2018, while nonprofits received more than $35 million from those activities.

Some of the nonprofits that benefit from charitable gaming in Alaska are tribes. But if tribes can establish bingo parlors under Indian gaming rules, their revenues are potentially higher, because the state would likely be unable to impose taxes on those games.

A Class II casino allows pulltabs, lotto and bingo, including electronic forms of the game that look like slot machines. The Native Village of Eklutna wants to develop its casino on land it leases from tribal members. The site, part of the Ondola family’s Native allotment, is about 20 miles north of Anchorage. 

The tribe argues it has governmental authority over the land. But the U.S. Department of Interior says the land does not meet the definition of “Indian lands” and thus is not eligible for Indian gaming.