Attorney vows Supreme Court appeal
In a published decision June 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed a trial judge’s previous decision that the federal government could collect taxes from Native American tribal casinos and from tribal members who receive disbursements from those casinos.
“When an Indian tribe decides to distribute the revenue from gaming activities … the distributions are subject to federal taxes,” wrote 11th Circuit Judge Gerald Tjoflat.
The ruling affirms a decision by Miami U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga, that defendant Sally Jim and the Miccosukee Tribe can be held liable for unpaid taxes.
The decision involves a dispute that has been reported on for almost two decades. In 2001, the federal government learned that Jim failed to report or pay taxes on $272,000 in disbursements she received from the Tribe, which operates Miccosukee Indian Bingo and Gaming.
The government later learned that the Tribe had earned more than $32 million from its casino operations, and had failed to withhold any taxes, according to court documents.
The government argued that taxes were due under the 1988 Indian Gaming Revenue Act, which was enacted “to protect the Indian gaming industry from corruption and to provide for extensive federal oversight,” the court said.
Jim and the Tribe have argued that the IGRA was superseded by the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act, which generally precludes taxation of tribal revenues.
But Altonaga and the 11th Circuit agreed with the government, saying that the TGWEA was not meant to override the IGRA.
“[P]er capita distribution of gaming revenue remains taxable income, even if the distribution arguably promotes the welfare of a tribe,” Tjoflat said in the decision. “The distribution payments cannot qualify as Indian general welfare benefits under the TGWEA because Congress specifically subjected such distributions to federal taxation in IGRA.”
Jim’s attorney, Robert Saunooke, located in Miramar, maintains that tribes have the right to collect revenues and distribute those revenues as they see fit without being subjected to taxation.
“This is a very complex issue … Suffice it to say that we are disappointed with the result and will be appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. We are hopeful that some of the misleading language in the order will be clarified there,” Saunooke said in an email to the Seminole Tribune.
Multiple attempts to reach the Miccosukee Tribe’s attorney in this matter, George Abney of Atlanta’s Alston & Bird, were unsuccessful.