Federal judge rules against Fort Sill Apache casino in Southern New Mexico

New Mexico

Mike Putney, of Lawton, Okla., helps set up the 50 class II electronic bingo gaming machines Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008, at a casino under construction at Akela Flats, N.M.. Gov. Bill Richardson on Wednesday ordered state police to block access to what he called an illegal casino. (AP Photo/Las Cruces Sun-News, Norm Dettlaff)

Construction continued Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008, on a casino at Akela Flats, N.M., after Gov. Bill Richardson ordered state police to block access to what he called an illegal casino. (AP Photo/Las Cruces Sun-News, Norm Dettlaff)

MESCALERO, N.M. (AP) — A federal judge ruled last week against the Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma that has long sought to operate a casino in New Mexico.

In an opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Ellen S. Huvelle upheld a decision by the National Indian Gaming Commission that the Fort Sill Apache was not eligible to game in New Mexico, the Deming Headlight reports.

Fort Sill is a federally recognized tribe located in Oklahoma that has land at Akela Flats, located 18 miles (28.97 kilometers) east of Deming off of Interstate 10.

Fort Sill tried to open a small casino on the land in 2008 after it was donated to the tribe in the 1990s. The casino was shut down quickly by the National Indian Gaming Commission and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson ordered a state police blockade at the location where the Apache Homelands operates a diner, convenience store, and smoke shop.

The National Indian Gaming Commission determined that Fort Sill did not qualify under any of the exceptions to the general prohibition against tribes gaming on lands acquired after 1988 in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that was enacted by Congress.

After many years of arguing that they should be able to game at Akela Flats, Fort Sill took the commission to court. But Huvelle dismissed each argument made by Fort Sill.

State police Sgt. Robert McDonald, left, and officer Eddie Lucero stand guard Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008, at Akela Flats, N.M., as a casino is under construction in the background. A phalanx of law enforcement officers massed Thursday near a budding high-stakes bingo parlor in southern New Mexico that Gov. Bill Richardson and federal officials say is an illegal casino. (AP Photo/Las Cruces Sun-News, Norm Dettlaff)

Fort Still did not immediately respond to a message from The Associated Press.

The Mescalero Apache Tribe of New Mexico praised the judge’s decision.

“We have a shared history as Chiricahua Apache, but they chose to stay in Oklahoma and lost their connection to New Mexico,” Mescalero Apache President Gabe Aguila said. “IGRA was not intended to allow tribes like Fort Sill to game hundreds of miles away. Fort Sill promised Mescalero they would not game here.”

The Chiricahua Apache were taken as prisoners of war in 1886. In 1913, the Chiricahua were given a choice: stay in Oklahoma or return to their homelands. The clear majority returned to New Mexico to live on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation and became a part of the Mescalero Apache Tribe. The Chiricahua that remained in Oklahoma became the Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma.

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