by: Jim Strickland, Steve Gehlbach Updated:
CHEROKEE COUNTY, Ga. - An Oklahoma Indian tribe wants to return to its ancestral Georgia home, and bring a casino with it.
It’s the latest twist in the effort to legalize gaming in Georgia.
A lawyer for the United Keetoowah band of the Cherokee said an Indian casino is easier to get done and will help a native Georgia people struggling to survive.
The Keetoowah band were driven from Georgia during the Trail of Tears in the 1830s.
The impoverished tribe’s executive director hopes for a fruitful homecoming.
“I’m not getting any younger. I would like to see the people flourish in my lifetime,” Anile Locust said.
The tribe wrote to Governor Nathan Deal last month and said that through federal law, they have status superior to all other efforts to build a casino.
Their attorney, Richard Lea, said two casino companies are in active discussions.
“They can partner with an Indian tribe. They can cut through the regulation and on an expedited basis, they can get approval and build an Indian casino a lot quicker,” Lea said.
The casino company would buy the land and the feds would declare it sovereign in trust for the tribe.
The state legislature would not be involved.
“We’ve just seen the start of the casino fight in the legislature and it’s divisive,” Lea said.
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The state would negotiate a cut of the profits.
For example, the Mohegan Sun paid the state of Connecticut 25 percent last year, a total of nearly $150 million.
Lea said there has been past discussion with developers, who saw big Georgia potential.
“This is the number one choice in America for a casino,” he said.
One of the places the tribe is looking at is Cherokee County.
Lea said his developers follow a model set by Mohegan Sun and the nearby Foxwoods casino in New England, which looks at good interstate access to a site within 50 miles of the big city.
Channel 2's Jim Strickland got a statement from the governor's office that said the tribe's letter was sent to the attorney general's office.
Lea said the tribe had not heard back from the governor's office, but he will advise them to move forward, even without the state's blessing.
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