The Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma today provided more indication that Oaklawn Park, the race track and casino in Hot Springs, has an interest in the tribe’s potential gambling activities in Arkansas. An anonymous source provided the tribe with a Freedom of Information Act request by Oaklawn’s lawyer, Walter Ebel of the Friday Law Firm in Little Rock, related to Qupaw gambling.
The tribe, through spokesman Sean Harrison, commented:
It confirms what we have strongly suspected all along, that Oaklawn is behind the opposition to our trust application.
There’s nothing we can do about it, except try to let everyone know that we think it stinks. By that we mean, Oaklawn with its gaming monopoly has benefited very nicely from its relationship with the people of Arkansas and they are fostering a fear of us, the original Arkansans, to protect their monopoly, when in fact we have offered in writing a promise we will not build a casino. We have only said that if Arkansas ever looks to change its gaming statutes into something smarter and better, we would throw our name in the hat and offer to improve the lives of all Arkansans. But in the meantime all of this game playing is an insult to the Quapaw Tribe — it is the kind of behavior we’ve come to expect from places like Kansas, but which we didn’t expect from Arkansas.
As Harrison noted, the tribe has said it has no plans for gambling on land it acquired near the Little Rock Port and for which it is seeking federal trust status. Trust status would allow tribe autonomy on its use. This hasn’t stopped an orchestrated effort to force the tribe, if it is to get trust status, to first make a binding commitment on how it will use that port land, a commitment that is particularly aimed at limiting its use for gambling activities the tribe has pursued profitably in other states. City, county and port officials have joined the opposition to even entering a memorandum of understanding between the port and the tribe. The tribe has noted previously the Oaklawn sponsorship of the Little Rock Regional Chamber’s annual meeting.
Ebel’s letter inquires about a 2014 legal opinion the Quapaw received from the National Indian Gaming Commission about whether Quapaw land in Kansas qualified as Indian land under the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act.
Indian tribes, as a general matter, may use trust land for gambling to the extent allowed in the states where the land sits, though it is a complicated process to reach that point. Arkansas, strictly speaking, prohibits casino gambling. But the law allows establishments that have parimutuel wagering on horse and dog races (only Oaklawn and Southland Park in West Memphis) to also offer “electronic games of skill.” These include slot machines and machines for video poker and blackjack.
I’ve asked Ebel and Oaklawn for comment. The opinion Ebel sought said that tribe land in Kansas could be used for gaming. Kansas has sued over that opinion. The tribe has sued Kansas for refusing to negotiate in good faith on use of its acreage in Kansas to expand an existing facility in adjoining Oklahoma. Here’s some background.