- Associated Press - Monday, July 7, 2014

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The federal government has refused to accept a tract of suburban Wichita land into trust so an Indian tribe can build a casino there, the Kansas Attorney General’s Office said Monday.

A July 3 letter from the Interior Department shows the agency rejected the request from the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma to take the land into trust.

Wyandotte Nation Chief Billy Friend did not immediately return a message left Monday at his office. But the tribe later sent an emailed statement to the Miami News Record in Oklahoma saying it was disappointed in the decision.

“For the past 22 years, the Nation has steadfastly contended that the Department has a mandatory duty to take the Park City land into trust for the Wyandotte. This decision by the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs only furthers the resolve of the Nation to vindicate that right,” the statement said. “The Nation will continue to pursue all legal and regulatory avenues available to have the land taken into trust.”

Attorney General Derek Schmidt lauded the decision, saying in a written statement that the Interior Department reached the correct legal conclusion in disallowing the application.

“This decision is one more successful step in defending Kansas law, which does not allow a tribal casino in Sedgwick County,” Schmidt said. “If there are later efforts by the tribe or others to contest the Department’s denial of the application, we will continue to vigorously defend our state’s legal interests.”

The long-running dispute centers on a 10.5 acre- tract of land near Park City that the Wyandotte Nation bought in 1992 for a tribal casino site.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows tribes to conduct gambling only on Indian lands, which are defined as land within a reservation or held in trust by the United States.

But the Interior Department has now found that the tribe did not have sufficient trust funds to have purchased both the Park City parcel and a Kansas City tract where it has earlier built a casino.

Wyandotte Nation, formerly known as the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma, filed a federal lawsuit in 2011 contending that after it received federal recognition in 1978, it needed to reacquire lands lost as a result of “failed federal policies.” The Wyandotte Nation contends it bought the Park City land using money Congress set aside to buy property to put into trust for the tribe’s benefit. The tribe argued the Interior Department therefore had a “mandatory duty” to take the land into trust.

The state of Kansas intervened in that federal lawsuit seeking to protect its taxing, regulatory and economic interests. The state has granted Peninsula Gaming the exclusive right to operate a casino in south-central Kansas built just 25 miles from where the tribe wants to put one. But the federal court dismissed the state’s claims in 2012, ruling Kansas failed to show how it has been hurt by the ongoing review of the tribe’s application.

Then in an April 2013 ruling, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ruled that an audit finding showed those trust funds didn’t contain enough money for the tribe to have purchased both the Park City land and another tract where it opened a gambling hall in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. But the judge said a determination on the question of whether the tribe purchased the land falls outside her authority, and the court retained jurisdiction only on the tribe’s claim of unreasonable delay raised in the lawsuit.

She ordered the Interior Department to make quarterly progress reports meant to ensure that the agency processes the tribe’s application in a timely manner.

In a 10-page letter to the tribe detailing its factual and legal reasoning for denying the application, the Interior Department credited an accounting analysis by Kansas finding that the tribe had overstated its interest earnings for the trust funds in reaching its decision that the Wyandotte Nation could not have used trust funds exclusively to purchase the Park City parcel.

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