Supreme Court Will Not Review Dispute Between Comanches, Chickasaws On Oklahoma Casino

Posted on: May 30, 2019, 08:30h. 

Last updated on: May 30, 2019, 08:30h.

The U.S. Supreme Court this week decided to not hear an appeal by the Comanche Nation over the Chickasaws’ Riverstar Casino in Terral, Oklahoma. The venue opened last year and is some 45 miles from the competing Comanche Red River Hotel Casino at Devol.

The Comanche Red River Hotel Casino at Devol will not be getting help from the U.S. Supreme Court when competing with a rival venue operated by the Chickasaws. (Image:

In a court filing, the Comanches argued they had “no choice but to bring this challenge” given that the “Chickasaw Nation already has two dozen casinos bringing in more than a billion dollars a year.” The Comanches disputed whether it was proper for the Department of the Interior (DOI) to take land into trust for the Chickasaw Nation for the gaming venue under a rule called the Oklahoma exception.

Taking Land into Trust

The Indian Gaming Regulation Act generally prohibits casinos on land that was placed in trust after its enactment in 1988. The exceptions include lands that are in Oklahoma and “are within the boundaries of the Indian tribe’s former reservation,” or “are contiguous to other land held in trust or restricted status by the United States for the Indian tribe in Oklahoma.”

The DOI approved the lands — which are not part of the official Chickasaw reservation — in January 2017. That was just four years after the tribe acquired them.

In his 2017 ruling on the tribal controversy, District Court Judge Joe Heaton said, “There is no dispute here that the Terral property is within the boundaries of the historical reservation of the Chickasaw tribe. So assuming it is a ‘former’ reservation, the Oklahoma exception plainly applies.”

Heaton also acknowledged that the development was not inside the Chickasaw reservation. It fell within an area that was deemed to be so in the 19th century and therefore could be taken into trust.

Competition Unfair to Comanche?

The Comanches argue that the Chickasaws have exploited the exemption to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful tribal gaming operators in the U.S. They are also using their lobbying power in Washington to facilitate that expansion at the expense of poorer Oklahoma tribes, the Comanches claim.

Last year, lawyers for the Comanches argued the DOI failed to determine the Chickasaw tribe had “exercised governmental authority” over the lands before it purchased them. The Comanches also were not consulted by the DOI about taking the lands into trust, nor was the tribe mentioned in the DOI’s 18-page decision.

The Comanches further countered in their appeal the exception means “that 2/3 of the state is gaming eligible upon an acquisition in trust for an Indian tribe.” By using the exception, six tribes started 80 Oklahoma gaming venues since 1988 “and now dominate the Indian gaming market,” the Comanche appeal said.

The Comanches have argued their Devol venue is an “economic lifeline” for the tribe. It provides $60 million in net annual revenue which represents “more than 60% of the funds necessary for the Comanche to sustain vital tribal operations and social service programs.”

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals basically rejected the Comanche appeal, too, in a ruling last December.  “We are pleased the court of appeals agreed with our original assessment,” Stephen Greetham, senior counsel for the Chickasaw Nation, said last year.

“The Comanche Nation’s lawsuit fails to raise any factual or legal point of merit,” he added in 2018. “With this appeal completed, we are confident the district court will now proceed with dismissal of the entire case, not just the Comanche motion for preliminary injunction.”