Judge Rules Against Eklutna Tribe's Game Hall Near Anchorage

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A U.S. District Court judge has ruled against plans by the Native Village of Eklutna to build a tribal gaming hall about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of downtown Anchorage.

The tribe had intended to offer pull-tabs, bingo and lotteries at the site, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The tribal government has said the gaming hall would support jobs, tourism and the economy.

The U.S. Department of Interior in 2018 concluded the tribe does not have jurisdiction over an eight-acre allotment where it has sought to build the gaming hall. Members of the tribe own the allotment, located near the Birchwood Airport in Chugiak.

The tribal government sued in 2019, challenging that decision.

Judge Dabney L. Friedrich with the District Court for the District of Columbia in a 24-page ruling determined the department properly came to a “rational” decision.

“Though the Tribe may not agree with Interior’s application of law to the facts at hand, the record shows that Interior made a reasoned judgment which the court will not second-guess,” Friedrich wrote in the decision.

Aaron Leggett, president of the tribe, said Wednesday it was too early to provide a detailed comment on the decision.

“Of course it’s a disappointment,” he said. “But like I said, it’s pretty fresh. So we’re reviewing our options.”

The decision favors the state of Alaska, which had intervened in the case in support of the Interior Department. The state has often opposed attempts by tribal governments to exercise jurisdiction, citing fears that such a situation could lead to a patchwork of conflicting laws.