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Federal judge rules in favor of Indian casinos in Alabama; state vows to appeal the ruling

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MONTGOMERY, Alabama — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the state which challenged the rights of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians to operate three casinos in Alabama.

U.S. District Court Judge Keith Watkins ruled Friday that the state has no authority to prohibit the activity on Indian lands, The Montgomery Advertiser reported (http://on.mgmadv.com/Q0VoJl ).

"The bottom line is that even if Defendants are operating illegal class III gaming at the Poarch Band casinos, (state law) does not provide the State authority to prohibit such gaming," Watkins wrote in his ruling.

Alabama officials intend to appeal the court ruling, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said in a statement. A spokesperson in Strange's office said that appeal would be filed as quickly as possible with the full Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka. Their casinos have electronic games, but no table games. The Poarch Creeks are among 243 tribes conducting gambling in 28 states.

Friday's ruling was an important victory for the Poarch Creeks, as it shot down the biggest threat to Indian gambling — a recent Supreme Court decision that appeared to challenge the legality of tribal lands held in trust by the U.S. federal government for tribes that weren't federally recognized in 1934 or before.

Strange's office defined the ruling as meaning that the Poarch Creeks had no right to hold sovereign lands that weren't subject to state laws.

The Poarch Creeks and other tribes defined the Supreme Court ruling as a narrow decision based on one specific set of circumstances. As far as the Poarch Creeks are concerned, it doesn't apply because a six-year statute of limitations has expired and the tribe has held the lands for decades.

Watkins sided with the tribe.

"We are pleased with Judge Watkins' well-reasoned decision," said Robert McGhee, a spokesman for the tribe. "This decision not only recognizes the sovereignty of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, but it also confirms that the tribe's lands are held by the United States of America in trust for the tribe."


Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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