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BIA Takes Land into Trust for Osage Casinos

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs has taken land into trust on three parcels where the Osage Nation operates casinos.

Osage Nation Principal Chief John D. Red Eagle, Osage Casinos CEO Neil Cornelius and BIA Regional Director for Eastern Oklahoma Charles Head signed off on three land-into-trust applications on Tuesday, August 23, for Osage Casinos in Tulsa, Skiatook and Ponca City, the Nation said in a press release on its website. The applications were approved in July.

Red Eagle welcomed the finalized process. “We are pleased with the work of the Department of Interior and how they expedited the process for us,” he said. “Getting tribal land placed into trust can often take years, so we feel fortunate to have this matter resolved in such a short amount of time.”

The BIA published separate notices of the applications in the Federal Register on July 19. The properties are 27.66 acres, 15 acres, and 7.5 acres. The three gaming facilities operate on land that is within the Nation’s former reservation, but the sites weren’t held in trust, which raised questions about their legality. Tribal casinos are required to operated on federally recognized reservations or lands that have been placed in trust in states where gambling is legal. Cornelius told Tulsa World that having the land in trust relieves concerns about the casinos’ legality. "At this moment, we have tremendous peace of mind," he said. "We've completely eliminated that fear." Cornelius said that having the land in trust also ensures that the 600 employees at the three casinos can keep their jobs.

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The casinos have been operating since 2005 when the National Indian Gaming Commission approved gaming on the nation’s former reservation land. But that opinion was overturned in 2010 in a lawsuit the nation filed in 2001 against the Oklahoma Tax Commission, the Tulsa World reported. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that Osage County is not a federally recognized reservation and that tribal members could not be exempt from paying state taxes, the report said. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the tribe's appeal in June.