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Fort Sill Apaches open restaurant on N.M. land

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DEMING, N.M. (AP) - The chairman of the Oklahoma-based Fort Sill Apache Tribe said the tribe saw a quiet opening of its new restaurant on southern New Mexico land where the tribe wants to open a casino that's been opposed by the state.

The restaurant had about 15 customers at its opening April 7, said Chairman Jeff Houser, who was at the restaurant for the event.

The 24-hour restaurant, which features a menu of American foods such as steak and meatloaf, opened on 30 acres the tribe owns off Interstate 10 east of Deming.

Restaurant general manager Dennis Floge said the ''signature item'' was a 16-oz. New York strip steak. He said the restaurant also offers ''very high quality'' crab cakes and a meatloaf ''that compares to my mother's.''

Menu offerings are ''a step above a normal restaurant of this caliber because we are a casino ... we are maintaining the casino mindset.''

The restaurant currently has about 16 employees, Floge said.

The tribe filed a motion in federal court in Oklahoma City in March, asking the federal government to quickly process an application granting reservation status to the New Mexico property - a key step toward opening a casino there.

Federal law prohibits Indian gaming on most trust land granted after 1988. The Fort Sill Apache Tribe gained its New Mexico trust land in 2002. However, an exception to the law is when a tribe is granted a reservation for the first time.

Gov. Bill Richardson, who opposes the casino, in February ordered state police to block access to it. Houser said at the time that the casino's opening would be months in the future.

Houser said the Fort Sill Apaches are still discussing the casino with federal officials, ''basically where we were before the governor's police action last time. It's progressing at a reasonable pace.''

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