Indian group asks to be called a tribe

June 23, 1995|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

In a move that could eventually lead to Las Vegas-style casinos in Southern Maryland, an Indian group has asked the federal government to recognize it formally as a tribe.

The Piscataway Conoy Confederacy and Subtribes, a nonprofit Indian organization in Charles County, filed its petition for recognition Tuesday with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The group is the first Maryland Indian organization to do so.

If approved, the Piscataway could open a casino on a reservation under certain circumstances without state approval, according to federal officials.

Indian gaming, though, is not expected to occur anytime soon in Maryland, if at all. The federal recognition process takes at least two years, according to Thomas Sweeney, acting public affairs director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Since the process was established 17 years ago, 165 organizations have either petitioned the government or expressed interest in being LTC recognized. The bureau has recognized only nine such groups, Mr. Sweeney said.

"If everything went extremely well, it would take at least four to five years to open a casino in Maryland," said Ramsey Poston, editor of Casinews, a Washington-based casino industry newsletter.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening expressed concern yesterday that a bid for Indian gaming would circumvent a state task force he helped set up last week to evaluate the issue in advance of the 1996 General Assembly session. "I have great concerns about casino gambling . . . it doesn't make a difference whether it's on a reservation or not," Mr. Glendening said. "I'm very sympathetic to Native Americans' concerns, but I don't want to open a loophole to permit casino gambling in a way that would be outside the normal process of full review."

As recently as 1993, the Piscataway talked of building a large casino complex that could include hotels, a marina and a theme park. Although the group's leaders were unavailable for comment yesterday, there was no sign that the organization's intentions had changed. "If recognized, the Piscataway want the opportunity to consider every avenue of economic development . . . including gaming conducted according to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act," the group said in a prepared statement.

The Piscataway group, which says it has 777 enrolled members, has no tribal reservation in Maryland and would have to purchase property on which to build a casino. The group says it has been gathering material to support its recognition request for years -- long before the federal government legalized large scale Indian gaming in 1988.

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