State of Alaska weighs in against Native village in casino case

Bingo cards
(Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez/KUCB)

The state of Alaska is trying to stop the Native Village of Eklutna from opening a casino in Chugiak.

The Eklutna tribe filed a lawsuit in August to appeal a U.S. Interior Department decision preventing it from developing a Class II casino under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. 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 Alaska Department of Law says the tribe’s casino would compete with state-licensed gaming. The state considers most gambling illegal, but it allows charitable gaming that benefits nonprofit organizations.

According to the Alaska Department of Revenue, the state collected almost $2.6 million from charitable gaming in 2018, while nonprofits raised more than $35 million.

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 pull tabs, lotto and bingo, including electronic forms of bingo 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.

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