Chippewa tribe sues over federal casino application process

By Dinesh Ramde
Milwaukee, Wisconsin (AP) 12-07

A Chippewa tribe hoping to build a casino in the Beloit, Wis., area has filed a lawsuit accusing federal officials of changing rules to make it easier to deny applications.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia names as defendants U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Carl J. Artman.

It accuses Kempthorne of letting his “negative personal views” toward off-reservation gambling influence the approval process and says the Bureau of Indian Affairs has rearranged the application process in a way that makes it easier to turn applications down.

According to the lawsuit, the St. Croix Chippewa tribe and the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians have tried for six years to establish a casino in Beloit. The St. Croix tribe filed the lawsuit on behalf of both groups.

All tribes hoping to build casinos must first offer evidence that an off-reservation casino is in the best interest of the tribe and causes no detriment to the surrounding community. Next the federal government must declare the land where the casino will be built as sovereign, or subject to tribal laws.

But the Bureau of Indian Affairs is trying to reverse the order of these steps, according to Robert M. Adler, the lawyer for the St. Croix tribe. That doesn’t make sense, he said, because the government needs the information from the first step before it can approve the second.

“If the agency did the two-part test first, it would force Kempthorne to give a favorable recommendation,” he said. “But now they’ve reversed the process, which we think is just a way to turn these applications down.”

The lawsuit dated Friday asks a federal judge to impose a temporary restraining order and then a long-term injunction to prevent those changes.

Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman with the Department of the Interior, Indian Affairs, said she couldn’t discuss pending litigation.

The tribes expect the Beloit casino to attract several million visitors a year, primarily from the Chicago area. The project also would include a 500-room hotel, a conference center, a theater and water park. The tribes estimate the project would create some 3,000 full-time jobs.

The St. Croix tribe already has two casinos on its land in northern Wisconsin but those “produce insufficient revenues to fund badly-needed tribal needs,” the lawsuit said. The tribe cites hardships including “significant” unemployment and poverty-level wages.

Although Beloit is in the southeast corner of the state, hundreds of miles from the tribes’ reservations, their “ancestors resided in the Beloit area and were parties to peace treaties ceding lands in this area to the United States,” the lawsuit said.

Beloit city manager Larry Arft said the city is strongly in favor of the tribes’ application.

On the Net:
Beloit Casino Project:

Bureau of Indian Affairs: