Alabama’s hopes to close casinos operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians have been dashed by a federal appeals court.
The state of Alabama does not have the right to bring a federal claim against the tribe to cease operations of its casinos as ruled by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday. The court’s ruling by a three-judge panel that operations on tribal land could only be regulated by the federal government and the deadline had passed long ago for any challenge to the land-into-trust acquisitions for the site. Judge Jill Pryor wrote, “Because the [Interior] Secretary accepted the lands at issue into trust for the tribe in 1984, 1992, and 1995, the statute of limitations to challenge those decisions had run by 1991, 1999, and 2002, respectively.”
The same conclusion regarding the Bureau of Indian Affairs authority to place land in trust has now been ruled on by two appeals courts. The 11th Circuit Court ruling that the gaming operations of the tribe are entitled to sovereign immunity just as the tribe is, effectively dealt a loss to the land in trust issue as well as the entirety of claims brought in the lawsuit originally filed in the state court system by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.
The tribe’s three casinos, the Wind Creek Casino & Hotel in Atmore; Creek Casino Wetumpka; and, Creek Casino Montgomery operate electronic bingo machines that that closely resemble slot machines, which was included in the complaint by the state. The National Indian Gaming Commission (IGRA) determined that Alabama’s argument that Poarch Creek was offering slot machines which require a Class III gaming compact was unfounded, and that the suit would not have been authorized by the IGRA regardless of the finding.
Previously stating that if he lost at the 11th Circuit Court he would drop the case, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange will not appeal the ruling. However, it is not known whether Attorney General Kamala Harris (D), will appeal.