The state argued that a 1934 federal law prevents the government from taking land into trust for tribes recognized after the law took effect, unless Congress specifically authorized it. The Narragansetts became a federally recognized tribe in 1983.
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston rejected the state's claim.
At issue is whether a 31-acre lot in Charlestown purchased by the Narragansetts should be subject to Rhode Island law, including a prohibition on casino gambling, or whether the parcel should be governed by tribal and federal law.
The dispute dates to 1991, when the Narragansetts purchased the land to build an elderly housing complex, which remains incomplete.
The state objected when the tribe asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to take the land into federal trust, which would place it largely under tribal and federal control.