Judge deals blow to Eklutna’s bid for tribal gaming

The state allows charitable gaming, including bingo. A tribe could make more money under Indian Gaming rules, because such operations usually aren’t subject to state taxes. (Alexandra Gutierrez/KUCB)

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. has decided against the Eklutna Tribe in its effort to build an Indian gaming parlor on land owned by tribal members.

U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled Wednesday that the Interior Department was justified in concluding the tribe does not have governmental authority over a particular land parcel near Eklutna village. If the eight acres in Chugiak are not legally considered “Indian land” Eklutna can’t use Indian gaming rules to build a gambling facility there.

Eklutna’s plan to lease the land alarmed opponents of Indian casinos in Alaska. The case was also closely watched by advocates who want Alaska tribes to have territorial jurisdiction like Lower 48 tribes have. 

Alaska tribes have authority over their members, but where they might have jurisdiction over land is more complicated because, with the exception of Metlakatla in Southeast, Alaska has no Indian reservations. 

Eklutna wanted a class I & II gaming facility, which would allow pull-tabs, lotto and bingo, as well as electronic bingo that looks a lot like slot machines.

The state of Alaska allows pull-tabs and bingo parlors that benefit nonprofits, including tribes. But if tribes can establish gambling parlors under Indian gaming rules, their revenues are potentially higher, because the state couldn’t impose taxes on those games.

Eklutna could appeal the court decision. Tribal President Aaron Leggett did not respond to an email Thursday. The Interior Department declined to comment.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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