The Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma has renewed its decades-long effort to open a casino in southern New Mexico. If approved, this Oklahoma tribe’s casino in Luna County would destroy the careful balance of Indian gaming in our state.
The Mescalero Apache tribe shares a tragic history with the Apaches of Fort Sill. The United States held our Chiricahua ancestors as prisoners of war, first at Fort Marion in Florida, then at Mount Vernon in Alabama, and finally at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
In 1913, after 27 years of imprisonment, the Chiricahua were released from POW status and given a choice.
One hundred and sixty-three Chiricahua, including all descendants of Geronimo, Naiche, and Cochise, chose to return to New Mexico. Their descendants are now citizens of the Mescalero Apache tribe. That same year, 76 Chiricahua declined the opportunity to reconnect with their ancestral lands, choosing to remain in Oklahoma to form the Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma.
Our respective tribal governments have taken very different paths since then.
The Mescalero, Lipan, and Chiricahua Apache, who make up the Mescalero Apache Tribe, have worked to preserve our ancestral lands, traditions, and culture, while striving to grow our reservation economy by working with our neighbors here in New Mexico. .
Since 1913, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma has worked to build its land base and economy in Oklahoma.
In 1999, Fort Sill worked with the Department of the Interior to open its Apache Casino hotel in Lawton, Oklahoma, using an exception to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that required it to show that the land encompassed “the old Indian tribe reservation. In May 2022, Fort Sill opened a second casino in Oklahoma based on this same exception.
Fort Sill is now looking to open its third casino, this time in New Mexico. This is their last reboot.
The Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma is headquartered in Apache, Oklahoma, nearly 700 miles from its proposed Akela Flats casino location. In dismissing previous attempts by Fort Sill to open a casino in Akela, the National Indian Gaming Commission discovered that Fort Sill’s population center is based in Oklahoma and that only a handful of Fort Sill members live in New -Mexico. Not a single Fort Sill member lives in Akela Flats.
Former Governors of NM. Gary Johnson, Bill Richardson and Susana Martinez have all opposed previous Fort Sill game proposals. Sens Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici also expressed strong opposition to the Fort Sill casino proposal.
Our state’s former rulers opposed a casino at Akela Flats primarily because the Fort Sill Apache Tribal Council had promised not to use the land for gambling purposes. However, they also knew that granting a casino to an Oklahoma-based tribal government was not in the best interests of New Mexicans. These facts have not changed.
All revenue generated by a Fort Sill casino in Luna County will go directly to serving their government in Oklahoma.
Any potential jobs created by a Fort Sill casino will be offset by significant layoffs of Mescalero Apache employees at the Mountain Gods Inn, which will be coupled with cuts to essential programs and services to our people.
The gambling market in New Mexico is saturated, and New Mexico is under additional pressure to expand gambling through mobile sports betting and other measures.
Fort Sill’s gambling proposal is a clear abuse of the law and represents a terrible deal for NM ratepayers.
If approved, a Fort Sill Apache casino in Akela will break the careful balance of Indian gambling that New Mexico’s pueblos and tribes have built over the past 30 years.