Kansas Sues Interior Department to Block Native American Casino

Kansas is suing the Interior Department over a decision that allows the Wyandotte Nation to develop a casino in a Wichita suburb.

(CN) — The state of Kansas asked a federal court Monday to set aside a U.S. Department of Interior decision that allows the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma to develop a casino in the Wichita suburb of Park City. 

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt claims the state was illegally left out of discussions about accepting the land into trust and that gaming on the land requires the approval of both the governor and the secretary of the Interior Department. 

“The state has been deprived of its lawful right of consultation and approval regarding Indian gaming on the tract of land in issue as it was not consulted about the matter nor was its approval sought or given for gaming to occur on the land in issue,” Schmidt claims in a 38-page lawsuit

In 1984, Congress passed a law mandating the distribution of funds granted to the Wyandotte Nation in several judgments against the U.S. in the late 1970s — the tribe succeeded on claims it had received “unconscionable” compensation for land it ceded to the U.S. by treaties. 

Public Law 602 set aside $100,000 for the purchase of real property, but the Wyandotte Nation first invested the funds, according to the lawsuit, before purchasing land in Kansas City, Kansas, for $180,000 in 1996. The Department of the Interior agreed to acquire the land — known as the Shriner Tract — in trust, and the tribe now operates a Class II casino there with chance games like bingo. 

Throughout 14 years of litigation over the Kansas City property, the Wyandotte Nation told federal courts, “that the Shriner Tract trust acquisition fulfilled the mandate of PL 602 and that no further trust acquisitions for the Wyandotte could be predicated on the mandatory trust provisions,” according to the complaint.

However, in 2006, the Wyandotte Nation applied to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to have land it had purchased in Park City, Kansas, in 1992 included in the trust alongside the Kansas City property. The land was purchased for $25,000, which came from the tribe’s investment of the “real property” funds. 

The federal government initially denied the request in 2014, but after a review of a new financial analysis and additional records, current Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney approved the Wyandotte Nation’s application on May 20.

“These materials were evidently reviewed between October, 2017, and May, 2020,” the complaint states. “Yet, no notice of any kind was provided to Kansas or any of the other Plaintiffs despite their significant participation in the administrative proceedings and litigation involving the proposed … Park City trust acquisition between September, 2010, and July, 2014.”

In a press release, the attorney general’s office claims the state only learned about the May 20 decision from news reports. 

Kansas contends that the Wyandotte Nation’s Park City land does not belong in the trust, because “the mandate of PL 602 was finally and completely fulfilled long ago when the Shriner Tract was placed in trust in July 1996 under the mandatory provisions of PL 602.”

The Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska as well as the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska also appear as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Each signed compacts with Kansas enabling them to operate Class III Casinos with electronic slot machines and card games.

The complaint asks the court to reverse the federal government’s most recent decision under the Administrative Procedure Act and allow the Sunflower State to regulate gambling with its borders.

The U.S. Department of Interior and the Wyandotte Nation did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday. 

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