Courtesy Nathan Inc.
“While some tribes have been able to open new gaming facilities on land taken into trust, it can be a lengthy, costly, contentious process with no guarantee of success.”

Tribes Left Hanging: 26 Land-Acquired-in-Trust Applications Pending

Mark Fogarty

Twenty-six applications for American Indian gaming on lands acquired in trust, some of them dating back to 2005, remain pending.

Data in the 2016 Casino City Indian Gaming Industry Report show that the pace of applications increased rapidly in 2015, with 13 applications for gaming operations on land acquired in trust by tribes.

The longest outstanding request is by the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York, which was made in 2005. It made its request to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Indian Gaming Management on the basis of getting an exception because the land was on or contiguous to its existing reservation.

Others have been filed by the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, the Puyallup Tribe of Washington, the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming, and the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe of South Dakota.

Of the 26 applications for so-called “section 20 exceptions,” seven were classified as off reservation, while six were for restored tribes and six for on or contiguous to reservation, according to the almanac, written by Dr. Alan Meister.

Since the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, 67 applications have been approved, meaning more than a quarter remain pending. And six of those approvals were never finalized.

The almanac points out that these kinds of conversions represent a way to increase the number of Indian gaming operations but notes “not all pending land-in-trust gaming applications are likely to come to fruition though.

“While some tribes have been able to open new gaming facilities on land taken into trust, it can be a lengthy, costly, contentious process with no guarantee of success.”

The first one approved was done by the Grand Ronde Tribe of Oregon in 1990, on the basis that it was a restored tribe. The most recent was approved September 18, 2015, for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts on the tribe’s initial reservation.

The most successful year for this was 2008, when nine applications were approved. Restored tribe was the most frequent exception, with 18, then on or contiguous to reservation at 16, and off reservation at 14.

By state, California had the most approvals, at 13, followed by Michigan and Oklahoma with 10. The state with the most applications still pending is California with six, followed by Oklahoma with five, according to the almanac.

Meister noted there has been a small acceleration of approvals since President Obama came into office. There have been 19 approvals during the current administration, or a pace of 2.67 a year, while before that the pace was 2.37 per year.

Besides new gaming facilities on land acquired and taken into trust, Meister identified seven other potential growth factors for Indian gaming. They include states that have limited competition or unmet demand, states where tribes were previously restricted but now able to grow due to increased demand, smaller, less mature Indian states, continued development and implementation of Class II gaming machines, conversion of Class II gaming into Class III gaming in states like Alabama, Nebraska and Texas, the enactment of public policies conducive to Indian gaming, and growth from replacement, expansion or remodeling of existing facilities.

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