Poarch Creeks file lawsuit over taxes imposed on gaming facility

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians is suing a tax assessor in Alabama who is trying to impose taxes at one of the tribe’s gaming facilities. The Wind Creek Casino and Hotel is located on trust land in Atmore. Yet Escambia County Tax Assessor James H. Hildreth claims the tribe owes $22.3 million in taxes and penalties for the facility, according to a document submitted in federal court. “Defendant Hildreth’s promised assessment of taxes on the tribe’s trust lands, like any assertion of state or local taxing jurisdiction or authority over the tribe’s trust property, violates federal law, infringes tribal sovereignty, and is subject to declaratory and injunctive relief from this court,” the complaint filed on Tuesday reads. In correspondence with the tribe, Hildreth has refused to concede his lack of authority in Indian Country. “The Poarch Band’s claim that the so-called ‘Trust Property’ is beyond the jurisdiction of this office to assess for taxation has never been legally established,” he wrote in a March 2014 letter that was submitted in court. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, however, confirmed that the tribe’s properties are indeed in trust in a June 2012 letter. And in December of that year, the agency issued a regulation that ensures Indian lands are not subject to state or local taxation. The federal courts have determined that the rule confirms long-standing law and policy. The Seminole Tribe in neighboring Florida, for example, has been able to stop the state from imposing taxes on one of its casinos. That case, though, is pending before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Alabama. Oral arguments took place on May 13.

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