The Quapaw tribe has released letters it’s written to federal officials responding to local officials’ criticism of their application to place 160 acres near the Little Rock Port into federal trust, where it would be beyond the reach of local government regulation and taxation.
The letters say local officials including County Judge Barry Hyde have misstated the applicable law and they blame Oaklawn Park, which operates a casino in Hot Springs, for stirring up the opposition out of concern that the tribe might someday seek to operate a casino there, as it does in Oklahoma. The tribe letters reiterates that it has no plans to change use of the land and “no plans to seek approval to conduct gaming on this land.”
I’ve sought a response from Oaklawn and from County Judge Barry Hyde, sharply faulted in the letters as cooking up excuses to do Oaklawn’s bidding.
It is difficult to believe that the unified alarm expressed by County Judge Hyde, the Little Rock Port Authority and members of the Little Rock City Board, including Mayor Mark Stodola has not been whipped up by Oaklawn or its agents. Whatever the reason, patronizing white men have been the order of the day in response to an effort by a tribe expelled from its homeland now trying to return a preserve a piece of its heritage.
Oaklawn, along with Southland Park in West Memphis, enjoy a duopoly on casino gambling in Arkansas. They snookered the legislature into a ruse that they are offering games of “skill” and the constitution protects them because they offer parimutuel wagering. They can afford to spend some legal fees guarding against even a hint of potential competition.
It’s true that, once the Quapaw land is in trust, the tribe would have a somewhat stronger position to seek to use its land for gambling to the extent it is allowed elsewhere in the state. But it would be a long and arduous and iffy proposition and the location east of Little Rock isn’t exactly idea. The fact is, however, that it is not part of the application. Nonetheless, the city and county have dug up many and fanciful reasons to object to the Quapaws receiving trust designation and autonomy, as is routinely done for such legitimate tribes around the country.
It has been insulting to hear city and county officials demand that the Quapaw negotiate terms and to set demands on how the land is to be used. The most laughable criticism has been hearing city officials saying they want to “protect” the industrial nature of land surrounding the port.
Industrial zoning is the lowest possible classification. Anything goes there, from rendering plants up. You could build a mansion if you wanted. Or a motel. Or a chemical plant. Or a warehouse. NOTHING can devalue industrial land. This concern for industrial land is only a ruse to hamper the Quapaw who’ve bought a culturally rich piece of land for preservation. Can you blame them for distrusting the great white fathers who claim to have their best interests at heart?
And as for the remote potential for gambling: Why should a St. Louis mogul who happens to have a wildly profitable, undertaxed, partial monopoly in Hot Springs be calling shots on Little Rock development? Why do Little Rock officials kiss his ring (apart from their employment of the Friday Law Firm, one of the state’ most powerful legal and political players and a key player in the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce power base that controls city board elections).
I believe the Quapaw when they say a casino is not in the cards for this land. Still. Don’t forget the Chamber thinks it should get a half-million a year in taxpayer subsidies (recently ruled illegal in court) to pay its lobbyists and work for “economic development.” Quapaw enterprises have produced hundreds of jobs, and millions in payment to government elsewhere, not just from gambling, but hotels, stores, restaurants, services, which the city also wants to limit on the land. I’m not much of a fan of gambling. But I’m also not much of a fan of a monopolist using money, influence and stooges in government to block competition.
Excerpt from letter to Kevin Walsh, assistant secretary, Indian affairs, in the Interior Department:
Following the Tribe’s removal to a reservation in the present-day States of Oklahoma and Kansas, the land that is the subject of fee-to-trust application became part of a privately owned plantation, and it continues to this day to be used solely for light agriculture. We have no plans to change this use to allow for gaming. This is reflected in the fee-to-trust application and it is an accurate statement of the Tribe’s intentions.
Recently, we became aware that the Oaklawn Park horse racing track located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, has been expending substantial resources to generate opposition to the application on the incorrect theory that if this land is taken into trust the Tribe could automatically develop a casino. This misinformation ignores the various requirements of law, including those under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, which impose restrictions on gaming on lands acquired into trust after October 17, 1988. Additionally, this activity by Oaklawn has caused unnecessary concerns within the local community. Nevertheless, I wanted to provide you with our assurances that the statements in our fee-to-trust application are accurate and the Tribe has no intention to game on this land.
For you[sic] information, I am attaching a copy of a letter I have sent to the Eastern Region responding to the recent letter from the county judge of Pulaski County, which enclosed a memorandum that misstates a number of points of law and fact. We understand this letter and memorandum was sent at the request of Oaklawn Park.
As yet, neither Hyde nor Oaklawn has responded to my request for comment.
Hyde’s memorandum says a 19th century treaty with the Quapaw gave them only limited jurisdiction to live and hunt on their former land. This is “silly,” the tribe’s chair, John Berrey, wrote. Indian tribes have long been recognized as sovereign government with power to exercise full jurisdiction over their lands. Berrey also rejected as “similarly frivolous” Hyde’s claim that decisions in the 1950 stripped the Quapaw of all claims to reservation land by federal payments. The reservations were disestablished, Berrey said. Anything else is “word games.” It amounts to a “strained” attempt by Hyde to evade regulations that provide for off-reservation acquisitions by the tribe. He rejected, too, Hyde’s argument that state law is sufficient to protect burial grounds. “Grave robbing and pot hunting are rampant in Arkansas,” he wrote. He said their land would be better protected in trust by the tribe.
Still, I’d like city and county fathers to answer this: If gambling is good for Hot Springs, why isn’t it good for Little Rock? And if it is not good for Hot Springs, how about backing a lawsuit (successful in other places) to challenge the obvious fraud of calling casino gambling a “game of skill”?
UPDATE: Hyde said there’d been “not an iota” or “shred” of contact between him and anyone associated with Oaklawn Park on the issue or in preparing the county’s memorandum. He said there HAD been legal input, in addition to that by county attorneys, from the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office. Why was the attorney general involved? Hyde said he believed it was because the governor wanted them to be involved.
Hyde said he simply opposed putting the land in trust and apart from local regulation. “My point is that if you want to be part of the community, be part of the community.”
Hyde said he had no opinion on gambling. But he also said in his discussions with Berrey that Berrey had made it clear that the tribe some day decided it wanted to begin a gambling operation here, it could do so.