A federal appeals court has ruled that Alabama can’t close or regulate casinos on tribal property.
On Thursday, the three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2014 lower court ruling that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI), which runs three casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka, enjoyed sovereign immunity from lawsuits. The judges also rejected a state lawsuit aimed at removing electronic bingo machines from the tribe’s property.
In a 42-page decision, U.S. Circuit Judge Jill Pryor wrote that the law gives the National Indian Gaming Commission authority over tribes engaged in casino gambling.
Last year, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said the tribe’s electronic bingo machines were really slot machines which, under the federal Indian gaming regulatory framework, are only allowed through a compact with state officials.
Strange said in a statement Thursday afternoon that he would not appeal the ruling and said it was up to state lawmakers to enter into a compact with the tribe to regulate gambling.
Strange added that while he does not agree with the Appeals Court’s decision, “it provides certainty and guidance to state officials where there was none before.”
“The Appeals Court’s decision makes it clear that the only way for the State of Alabama to regulate the gambling conducted on the PCI’s lands is to enter into a compact with the PCI,” said Strange.
Tribal Chair and CEO Stephanie Bryan praised the decision, saying the tribe “has been attempting to negotiate a Tribal-State compact since 1991, to no avail. However, we continue to be ready and willing to discuss with the Governor how a compact would benefit the entire State.”
A bill filed late in the state’s last special legislative session would have allowed the tribe to open a casino and resort in Jackson, DeKalb or Marshall counties. The bill called for another casino in Birmingham, which would be open to some other entity willing to pay a $250m licensing fee.
Oct. 1 marks the start of the state’s 2016 fiscal year, yet the state still doesn’t have a General Fund budget approved. State officials expect a gap of at least $200m in the General Fund next year, and lawmakers have rejected Bentley’s proposals to raise taxes to fill the gap. Bentley in turn vetoed a budget that would have cut roughly $200m from state agencies in 2016, including cutting state spending on non-school functions from $1.84b to $1.64b. The lawmakers will reconvene for the third time in Montgomery on Tuesday to try to pass a budget.