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Fort Sill Apaches hold poker tournament at N.M. casino

Deming, New Mexico (AP) 6-08

The head of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma says a poker tournament at the tribe’s southern New Mexico casino is aimed at forcing a decision on the legality of gambling at the casino.

The tribe held the invitation-only poker tournament with a $10,000 prize June 22 at the casino off Interstate 10. Tribal Chairman Jeff Houser says the tribe will hold a poker tournament every week, trying to prod the National Indian Gaming Commission to order the casino closed.

Such an order would create a legal basis for the tribe to sue the commission.

The Associated Press left a message June 23 seeking comment from the commission’s congressional and public affairs director. 

 

An advisory opinion from a commission attorney during May said there’s no basis under federal law for the Oklahoma tribe to be able to operate a casino on the land it owns at the Akela exit off I-10 near Deming, about 500 miles away from the tribe’s main governmental offices in Oklahoma.

The land was purchased by the tribe in 1998 and taken into trust by the Interior Department for the tribe in 2002. Federal law prohibits gambling on Indian lands taken into trust after October 1988, except under certain conditions.

Houser said he believes the poker tournament counts as Class 2 gaming, which the tribe contends it should be allowed to hold at its casino.

A spokesman for Gov. Bill Richardson, Gilbert Gallegos, said it’s too soon to say whether the tribal action might result in a state blockade. Richardson in February ordered state police to block access to the building on the tribal land if gambling was started.

“It’s unfortunate the Fort Sill Apache Tribe continues to sidestep state and federal laws,” Gallegos said.

Sixteen people paid $50 each to enter the four-hour Texas holdem poker tournament. Casino officials said the entry fee plus money added by the tribe made up the grand prize of $10,000, which would go to pay the entry fee into next month’s World Championship No-Limit Texas Holdem in Las Vegas.

The gaming manager for the Apache Homelands Casino, Gary Meyers, said he didn’t have specific about how players were invited, but added, “We found poker players who were really interested in going to the World Series of Poker and invited them.”

Most of the participants were from nearby El Paso, Texas, and had ties to Ysleta del Sur Pueblo near El Paso.

Members of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe are descended from the Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apaches, who lived in parts of New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico but were removed in the 1880s and sent first to Florida and then to Oklahoma.

 

 

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