An Oklahoma Indian tribe with Kansas history wants to build a new casino, hotel, convention center and museum near Lawrence Municipal Airport.
The Delaware Tribe of American Indians, based in Bartlesville, Okla., is negotiating to buy about 80 acres of farmland near the airport for the project, Chief Dee Ketchum said Tuesday.
If completed, the entertainment complex would employ as many as 1,800 people and have room for 4,000 guests, Ketchum said. Profits would be channeled into education programs for the tribe's 10,500 members including some 400 families in Kansas and others in the region.
"We don't want to be, and we're not going to be, someone who comes up and does their economic development and spends their money in Oklahoma, Colorado or New York," Ketchum said. "We want to try to help make a better place to live in the state of Kansas."
Still on the drawing board, the proposed casino and conference complex already is drawing fire from would-be neighbors, including a Lawrence Realtor whose two cousins own the 80-acre field being considered for development.
"I don't think that the casino brings anything positive to Lawrence," said Kelvin Heck, whose out-of-state cousins have indicated willingness to sell the property now covered with feed corn and soybeans. "It doesn't seem like a logical situation to me at all. If it went away tonight I'd be a happy camper."
Earlier this month, Ketchum met with Gov. Bill Graves to review the regulatory process for opening a casino in Douglas County. Ketchum said tribal officials first met with Graves' legal counsel a couple of months ago to discuss the project.
The process: The Delaware Tribe first must acquire land and have it cleared for use as a gaming center by the U.S. Department of Interior, said Don Brown, a Graves spokesman. Then, Graves could negotiate a compact for a casino in Kansas. That compact would need approval from the Kansas Legislature.
"It's a long process," Brown said. "We're at the starting point and right now I don't think anyone can clearly determine where the finish line is."
Four tribes with long-established reservations in Kansas the Kickapoo, Potawatomie, Iowa and Sac & Fox already have casino operations in the state. Other tribes, including the Wyandotte, have sought to develop casinos in the Kansas City area and elsewhere but those plans have died or remain mired in federal courts.
Ketchum doesn't expect his tribe's efforts to meet the same fate.
From 1830 to 1867, the Delaware tribe lived on a 2-million-acre reservation in northeast Kansas, from the edge of Topeka to the Wyandotte County line. Delaware warriors even helped run William Quantrill out of town after his raiders' murderous attack on Lawrence in 1863, Ketchum said.
"We're looking to repurchase some of our old reservation," he said.
While money generated by the project would not be subject to local, state or federal taxes, Ketchum said, Lawrence and state governments could expect the tribe to finance social programs and other community projects. He's already talked to officials at Haskell Indian Nations University about starting a scholarship program.
"We're prepared to build a first-class facility that the state and city would be very proud of," said Ketchum, who received bachelor's and master's degrees at Kansas University, where he was co-captain of the men's basketball team in 1961. "It's something that we dream about and hope it happens."
The Delawares have hired the Gillmann Group, a California-based casino developer, to conduct a feasibility study of the project. Ketchum expects it to be finished within 60 days.
The tribe also has a Washington, D.C.-based law firm working on the details, and architects putting together schematic drawings for review.
The casino would be more than blackjack, poker, slot machines and roulette, Ketchum said. Entertainers would be brought in from Branson, Mo., and an "all tribes" museum would offer a place for education and historical materials.
"Even if it went smooth, it's a two-year project at best, if not more," Ketchum said. "A lot of good things have to happen for us to be able to do that.
"It's still an uphill battle."