Tribe Vindicated as Federal Court Rules Santee Sioux Casino Legal

Press Release
For Immediate Release


Tribe Vindicated as Federal Court Rules Santee Sioux Casino Legal

December 7, 2001

After years of brutal economic hardship caused by federal seizure of tribal assets, the Santee Sioux Tribe was vindicated today when a federal district court ruled that the tribe has the right to operate Class II devices.

Santee Sioux tribal chairman Roger Trudell hailed the ruling, stating, “This is a tremendous vindication of our ability to use class II gaming to finally provide income for the Santee Sioux tribe. It is a daily struggle just to ensure the basic necessities for our children and elders. We know our struggle to operate gaming is not over but it is time for the Department of Justice to stop its cruel and unjust treatment of our tribe.”

Federal District Court Judge Joseph Bataillon ruled that the Santee Sioux may continue to operate the Class II gaming devices that it had been operating under approval from the National Indian Gaming Commission. The court rejected arguments by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) that the devices, called “Lucky Tab II” machines, constitute Class III gaming which would require the tribe to have a compact with the state of Nebraska. The court absolved the tribe from all contempt charges and permanently suspended any fines as well as rejecting DOJ’s claim that the machines violate a federal criminal law called the Johnson Act.

“We are still endeavoring to obtain a compact on gaming with the state to end the years of legal wrangling and be able to put our tribe on the road to Indian self-reliance,” said Trudell.
“We have never asked for anything more the ability to support ourselves.”

The case began in 1996 when the tribe opened its casino after the governor of Nebraska refused to enter into a Class III gaming compact. In response, the Department of Justice seized the tribe’s bank accounts and sued to close the tribe’s gaming operation. After a trial and initial round of appeals, the Department of Justice-imposed daily fines, for operating the casino without a state compact, began taking a crushing toll on the tribe. The Department of Justice garnished every available tribal asset.

“They took everything,” said Trudell. “Not only did the Department of Justice seize our tribal bank accounts but they took the funds from a tribal grocery store, our bake sale funds for our elder care program and an account used to pay for child car safety seats. Despite this victory, we will still be struggling just to get through the Christmas holidays.”

In an effort to get the fines lifted, the tribe obtained approval from the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) to operate the “Lucky Tab II” class II devices.

According to tribal attorney Conly J. Schulte of the Omaha law firm of Monteau, Peebles & Crowell, the DOJ disputed the NIGC’s decision and continued its enforcement actions against the tribe. In addition to imposing fines and seizing assets, the DOJ blocked federal grants for the tribe for services like tribal law enforcement. It also sought to put the tribal chairman and 12-member tribal council in jail.

“I hope this decision will encourage the Department of Justice to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on senseless and inhumane efforts to deny the Santee Sioux Tribe its right to operate gaming as a means of providing badly-needed jobs and income for its families,” said Schulte.

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