In 1833, Alabama decided it wanted the rest of the Creek land. After a feeble attempt by Washington to negotiate a settlement, the matter was solved by removing the most of the Indians to Oklahoma. Only a scattering remained and among them were the Poarch Creeks.
The Poarch Creeks became a federally protected tribe in 1984, which means that their land is not subject to state jurisdiction.
Or is it?
This is the question that will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court because Alabama, once again, wants the tribe under its control.
Why? Because the state of Alabama wants to close the Indian casinos where it contends illegal gambling is taking place.
The Indian casinos operate electronic bingo machines. Alabama, in the person of Attorney General Luther Strange, argues that these are really slot machines, which are illegal under both state and federal law.
The Poarch Creeks argue that they are not slot machines. Therefore what the tribe is doing is legal under federal law and the state of Alabama has no jurisdiction.
The case is a convoluted one, revolving around not only what is, and is not, a slot machine, but also around whether the Poarch Creek land is really under federal jurisdiction at all.
In the latest development the state of Michigan, which has a lawsuit against a tribe there, has filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Alabama. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has filed a similar brief supporting the Poarch Creeks.
A lot is at stake here. Not only are Creek casinos economic engines where they are located, but there is a new $246 million hotel and casino complex set to open near Wetumpka early next year. A lot of jobs will be lost, or never created, if the tribe loses.
Attorney General Strange says he is just enforcing the law. The Poarch Creeks say otherwise. Anti-gambling forces urge Strange on. Meanwhile, illegal gambling in other forms flourishes in the state. (Football season approaches, have you called your bookie?)
Other states have worked out arrangements, compromises, with Indian tribes within their borders where gambling is concerned. Alabama has taken another route.
At this point we’re left to wonder: Will the Indians win this time?