State moves to intervene in Eklutna lawsuit over tribal gaming

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The state of Alaska has moved to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Native Village of Eklutna against the federal government.

The lawsuit seeks to reverse a 2018 decision by the Department of the Interior that the Tribe no longer possesses governmental authority over certain “Indian country” lands within its jurisdiction. The issue at the heart of the lawsuit being the Tribe’s ongoing effort to construct a class II gaming hall North of Anchorage.

“In reaching the conclusion, the Department’s decision relied on outdated legal precedent and misapplied the relevant standards regarding tribal authority over allotments,” the Village’s lawsuit states.

If the decision were reversed, the Tribe would be able to construct a gaming hall under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. As a class II gaming facility, it could include pull-tabs, bingo, and lotteries, including electronic versions. It likely would not be subject to the current regulations and taxes applied to other charitable gaming organizations found around the state.

“The State only allows limited gambling, and requires all net proceeds from gambling be dedicated to charity,” Assistant Attorney General Lael Harrison wrote in the motion. “Alaska also taxes legal gambling.”

The documents raise concerns that if the decision is reversed, it “may open the door to IGRA gaming on other properties across Alaska.”

The Tribe previously expressed a different opinion. A Dec. 4 release from the Tribal Government of Eklutna wrote ”because of its unique location, the Tribe’s facility is expected to be a one-of-a-kind project that is unlikely to have implications elsewhere in the State.”

The Alaska Charitable Gaming Alliance, which represents a number of charitable gaming organizations, has argued that an IGRA gaming hall would draw business away from charitable gaming organizations in Anchorage and the valley, which could lead to nonprofits receiving less money from the state.

“They say they have electronic versions of bingo and pull-tabs,” said ACGA President Sandy Powers. “But their prize limits are much, much higher, and we can’t compete with that.”

The tribe, however, has asserted that, because of its location, their gaming hall would draw tourists and other travelers along the Glenn Highway.

“It is expected to attract different customers than those of the existing charitable gaming enterprises in the urban hubs of Anchorage, Palmer, and Wasilla,” their release said.

They have not issued an additional statement regarding the State’s request to intervene.

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