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Counsel rules against plans for casino

SANTA FE, N.M. — An Oklahoma Indian tribe cannot open a casino on land it owns in southern New Mexico, according to the top lawyer for the National Indian Gaming Commission.

There is no basis under federal law for the Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma to operate a high-stakes bingo casino on land it owns near Deming, said Penny Coleman, the commission's acting general counsel, in an advisory opinion this week to the regulatory agency's chairman.

Gov. Bill Richardson praised the legal opinion by the commission's lawyer, saying, "The Fort Sill Apaches will violate federal law if they move forward with an illegal casino.” Tribal Chairman Jeff Houser called Richardson's comments "a slanderous insult.”

At issue is land purchased by the tribe in 1998 and taken into trust by the Interior Department for the tribe in 2002.

Contributing: Staff Writer Tony Thornton