The Alaska Department of Law can’t seem to make up its mind on whether the 49th state should favor or oppose the opening of a Native-owned casino near Anchorage, but city Mayor Ethan Berkowitz is down with the idea and has been for a long time.
“The Municipality of Anchorage supports the (Native Village of Eklutna’s) goals of economic determination and believes both the tribe and the surrounding community will benefit from the jobs and related economic development the project will bring,” he wrote the U.S. Department of the Interior in January of last year.
His endorsement at the time went unreported and has for some reason never made the news.
In January of last year, Interior was considering whether a Native allotment near Birchwood belonging to Olga Ondola qualified as “Indian Lands” per the terms of the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act.
Six months after getting Berkowtiz’s letter, the Department of Interior ruled the parcel was not “Indian Land,” stymying the plans of the Village of Eklutna, which had contracted to lease the land from Ondola in hopes of opening a casino-style gaming business near the busy Glenn Highway between Anchorage, the state’s largest city, and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the largest city’s biggest bedroom community.
Casino-style gambling is illegal in the 49th state. An “Indian Land” or “Indian Country” designation for the Ondola property would, however, sidestep state restrictions by creating a mini-nation within the state with powers to govern itself free from some state laws.