Bingaman Opposes Tribal Casino

Las Cruces – In a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman outlined the long-standing opposition in the state to Fort Sill Apache's desire to establish a casino in New Mexico.

Bingaman's letter comes a week after the Department of Interior granted a "reservation proclamation" to the Oklahoma Tribe. A reservation proclamation clarifies the limits of federal, tribal, and state jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters on tribal trust land; it does not address the issue of gaming in any way.

Although it does not currently have a gaming request before the Department of Interior, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe has tried on various occasions to open a casino in New Mexico. In his letter to Salazar, Bingaman outlined the state's long-standing opposition to the tribe's gaming efforts.

"It has come to my attention that the Department of Interior has recently approved a reservation proclamation for the Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma on 30 acres of land near Akela, New Mexico. While it is my understanding that this proclamation is mainly a formality, I am concerned that the Fort Sill Apache have pursued this proclamation for the purpose of strengthening its case to establish a casino in New Mexico. I am in strong opposition to the Tribe's efforts and I urge you to deny any request to approve gaming on the Akela land," Bingaman wrote.

Bingaman pointed out, for instance, the land near Akela was taken into trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs only after Fort Sill Apache Tribal Council removed gaming as a stated purpose for the acquisition. Then-Governor Gary Johnson had strongly opposed the land acquisition for gaming. Former Governor Bill Richardson and the administration of Governor Susana Martinez have also stated their opposition.

In 2008, the Tribe was preparing to open a gaming casino. At the time, the National Indian Gaming Board affirmed that doing so was unlawful. Nonetheless, in 2009 the Tribe briefly opened the casino.

Should the Tribe use the proclamation as a starting point for seeking to re-establish a casino, Bingaman said, the Department of Interior should turn down such an application.