Tribal Land in Arkansas Draws Scrutiny

by George Waldon  on Monday, Jun. 2, 2014 12:00 am  

The Downstream Casino & Resort on the border of Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri elevated the Quapaw Tribe to the forefront among Indian gambling developments.

Two Indian tribes have made successful forays into Arkansas to reclaim historic ties through land ownership. One was made with the aid of a gift and the other through acquisition thanks to profits from casino operations in Oklahoma.

Neither property has served as a launching point for gambling ventures in Arkansas, where Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs and Southland Park in West Memphis hold state-granted monopolies.

If any tribes were to pursue a gambling development in Arkansas, the federal government would oversee the proposal and have final say. The review process to make such a possibility into a reality is not an overnight one.

Meanwhile, the eastward real estate moves by the United Keetoowah Band of the Cherokee and the Quapaw Tribe of Indians in Oklahoma continue to draw wary attention from some quarters.

“People talk and start rumors about opening a casino,” said Sean Harrison, a spokesman for the Quapaw Tribe.

The Quapaw purchased two adjoining 80-acre tracts south of the Little Rock Port Industrial Park in successive deals in October 2012 and April 2013 for a combined $1.3 million, cash.

The land was home to members of the tribe until a series of treaties disenfranchised the Quapaw and culminated in the move to Oklahoma in 1833. “Now that the tribe has the means, the tribe was excited to reconnect with the community down there,” Harrison said. “There’s a strong desire to own a piece of the tribe’s historic homeland. It’s a homecoming.”

The Quapaw gained the means to buy ancestral land in Arkansas through its $360 million Downstream Casino & Resort in northeast Oklahoma. Opened on July 4, 2008, the 350,000-SF casino is home to 60 gaming tables and more than 2,000 slot machines and is supported by two hotel towers with a total of 374 rooms and 2,000 ground parking spaces.

The project generated an unintended tiff with state officials in Kansas spurred on by Penn National Gaming Inc., which had hoped to manage a proposed state-owned casino near Downstream Casino.

Driven by competitive concerns, Penn National unsuccessfully “engaged in efforts to stop the development of the Quapaw casino.”

“Those efforts included investigating whether the proposed casino development was in violation of applicable environmental regulations, and participating in and financing a federal lawsuit against the United States Department of Interior, in which it was alleged that the federal government had improperly acquired and conveyed portions of the Quapaw’s Oklahoma land, such that the land could not legally be used for gaming purposes,” said Judge Richard D. Rogers of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court.

The establishment of a land trust, in which tribal land is transferred to the federal government, is an important economic and political consideration for Indian commerce.



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