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Appeals Court to hear Beloit casino case

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GINA R. HEINE
March 12, 2009
— Officials behind the Beloit casino project are looking to the courts and the new Obama administration to move the project forward.

The Beloit casino project's lawsuit will advance because an appeals court Monday rejected the government's motion to dismiss the case. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington now will decide whether a January 2008 change to the approval process for off-reservation casinos is lawful.


"We're very excited about finally getting a chance to state our case," tribal spokesman Joe Hunt said.


The lawsuit questions whether Dirk Kempthorne, Department of the Interior secretary during the Bush administration, acted illegally in January 2008 when his department filed a guidance memorandum that "fundamentally changed" the approval process for off-reservation casinos, according to a press release from St. Croix Chippewa and Bad River bands of northern Wisconsin.


The day after the change was made, St. Croix Chippewa says the change was used to deny the trust land applications of 11 tribes around the country, including the Beloit project. The St. Croix are seeking to have the court rule the guidance memorandum is invalid.


The Beloit casino project filed suit challenging the January 2008 guidance memorandum, but a federal judge in October dismissed the lawsuit.


The Beloit group appealed, and the federal government asked the appeals court to dismiss the case, too.


On Monday, the court of appeals rejected the government's request and will take up the question of whether the guidance memorandum is legal.


The Beloit group has two ongoing battles: a political battle and a judicial battle, Hunt said. The group is hopeful the new administration at the Department of the Interior will withdraw the Bush administration changes to the guidance memorandum, Hunt said.


If those changes are rescinded, a January 2009 denial letter on the Beloit project likely would be withdrawn, too, Hunt said.


Kempthorne issued a letter denying the project just days before he left office.


"The denial letter relied heavily on the guidance memorandum, which says Indians can't leave reservations," Hunt said. "If there is no guidance memorandum, logically, the applications that were denied based on that memorandum would have to be reviewed. Ultimately we believe the denial would be withdrawn."



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