Tahlequah casino could close on Monday

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - Its success is largely dependent on other people's luck, but the United Keetoowah Band's casino in Tahlequah could use a little luck of its own if it is to remain open past Monday night.

That is when the casino will close, unless the federal government issues a last-minute reprieve.

Last year, after years of legal battles, the National Indian Gaming Commission ruled the land the casino sits on is not Indian land and therefore is not eligible for gaming.

Under Oklahoma law, casinos are not allowed to operate on property that is not Indian land.

But an injunction kept the state from shutting down the casino, giving the Keetoowahs time to ask the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to give the land trust status, or declare it Indian land, making it eligible for gaming.

Last month, the injunction was removed after the tribe reached an agreement with the state to close the casino if the BIA didn't make a decision about the land by July 30.

Time is running out, but tribal leaders remain optimistic.

"It's going to happen. We're confident," said Chief George Wickliffe, who said the tribe is in close contact with its attorneys in Washington, D.C.

"We're very confident. I'd say 98 to 99 percent confident in the [federal] government doing the appropriate thing, doing the thing that's right," said assistant tribal chief Charles Locust.

If federal officials don't reach a decision, or if they deny the tribe trust status and the casino is forced to close, tribal leaders say they have a contigency plan in place, which includes placing nearly 200 employees on administrative leave as the tribe reassesses its options.

It's something tribal, and even local leaders, don't want to see, since the tribe has an economic impact of $133 million on the area.

"When you're talking about this job loss, you're not just talking about several hundred people, you're talking about families being displaced," said Locust.

Tahlequah's mayor, Jason Nichols, recently wrote a letter to the federal government, expressing his support for the casino.

"It would be difficult for Tahlequah to observe the loss of nearly 200 jobs," Nichols said to 2News on Friday. "The casino is also a destination that does bring people to town and we'd hate to lose out on all the revenue that comes from having so many visitors."

Nichols is also employed by the tribe.

Tribal leaders say the decision could come any moment.

If a decision is not made, or if trust status is denied, the casino would close on Monday night, according to tribal officials.

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