Government may tighten tribal casino rules 5-13-07

FLORENCE, Ore. (AP) - Oregon Indian tribes are awaiting new federal
rules that could hobble attempts to place land into a trust and take
it off the tax rolls, possibly affecting casino plans.

James Cason, associate deputy secretary of the Interior, recently
wrote to Ron Suppah, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm
Springs Reservation, and to other tribes, warning that new planned
rules could affect Suppah's application for a casino in Cascade Locks
and all “fee-to-trust” applications pending nationwide.

Placing land into tax-exempt trusts helps tribes operate casinos
since it exempts the land from rules against gaming.

Florence's Three Rivers Casino was built only after a 10-year legal
battle by the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw
Indians to put 100 acres in trust, which opened it to gaming.

Some tribes apply for trust status with no casino plans because it
removes tax burdens.

Some nontribal citizens call it unfair because tribes already get
significant federal help.

Off-trust lands also can lead to “off-reservation” casinos, whereby
a tribe buys property away from its ancestral homelands or a
reservation and then applies to have it placed in trust to build a
casino.

Warm Springs, which operates a small casino resort in Central Oregon,
wants one in Cascade Locks on property the tribe bought but to which
it has no ancestral ties.

The idea is opposed by conservationists, anti-casino forces in
the scenic gorge, and other tribes who feel such
“reservation-shopping” would hurt their own casinos.

The Grand Ronde tribe's Spirit Mountain Casino is the closest to the
lucrative Portland market. That would change with a casino in the
gorge.

For two years, Warm Springs' application has languished, despite Gov.
Ted Kulongoski's approval. Cason's letter doesn't bode well for it
and worries other tribes that plan to buy more property.

“We anticipate changes to the rules that may result in fewer
off-reservation properties being accepted into trust,” Cason wrote.

It also bothers the Cow Creek band of Umpqua Indians near Roseburg.

Over the past decade, the Cow Creek tribe has moved thousands of
acres off the tax rolls and into trust, using profits from the
successful Seven Feathers Casino to expand into other ventures.

The projects are much-needed economic development.

Cason's letter suggests new rules would make it harder for a tribe to
move land into a trust the farther the land is from the established
reservation or ancestral homelands.

Cason advises Suppah to rethink his tribe's proposal.

Tribal attorney Howard Arnett said similar letters went to 27 other
tribes and said the Warm Springs application is unique because it
involves an agreement with the state not to build on an other
property in thegorge.

Bob Garcia, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua
and Siuslaw Indians, said he didn't think the Cason letter would have
much impact on the Warm Springs application or the Coos Bay tribe's
plans.

Garcia's tribe is building a 100-room hotel and quadrupling the
existing casino's size.

The Warm Springs should be grandfathered in, Garcia said, and his own
tribe's 100-acre tract has room for future projects.

Changes in Indian gaming rules are more likely to come out of
Congress, Garcia predicted, where representatives have grown uneasy
about the growth of casino gaming.
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