Controversial Kansas City casino opens

Tribe still wants larger building near Kansas Speedway

? After years of controversy, the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma quietly opened a casino Thursday on its land in downtown Kansas City, Kan., but the dispute may not be over.

Although the tribe did not officially announce the opening, a line had formed outside the new Wyandotte 7th Street Casino before it opened at 9 a.m. and it was nearly full in the hours after it opened.

The cramped casino, in a renovated Masonic Lodge building, offers about 150 bingo, “pull tab” games and a variety of electronic pull tab devices that look and play like slot machines. It’s in the midst of downtown, across the street from the City Hall and next to the tribe’s historic Huron Cemetery, established in the 1840s.

The casino includes a small bar but a dispute quickly arose over whether the tribe was allowed to serve alcohol. And an attorney representing the tribe acknowledged that the tribe still would prefer instead to open a casino at a more spacious site in Wyandotte County.

The tribe for years has used the threat of opening a downtown casino as leverage to force approval of its preferred plan for a larger-scale casino and resort at a site near Kansas Speedway in Wyandotte County.

“We have a piece of land and we are conducting gaming today,” said David McCullough, the tribe’s attorney. “There would be better places to be, but this is it for now. The tribe would always be interested in negotiations to move somewhere else in the county.”

The Interior Department ruled earlier this year that the tribe’s downtown land was eligible for a federal Class II gambling license, which allows only certain games such as bingo and pull tabs. A Class II permit does not require further approvals by state or local governments.

State officials have sued in federal court to overturn that decision.

The tribe ultimately wants a Class III gambling permit that would allow traditional slots and table games like blackjack and craps.

Pedestrians pass the Wyandotte 7th Street Casino in Kansas City, Kan. An Oklahoma-based Indian tribe opened the downtown casino Thursday, despite opposition from state officials.

A casino on that scale, however, depends on state and congressional approval in exchange for the tribe’s dismissal of a class-action lawsuit that claims historic land rights to nearly 2,000 acres in the Fairfax Industrial District in Kansas City, Kan., including the site of a General Motors auto assembly plant.

The tribe has acknowledged that the Fairfax land claim was filed as further leverage for its proposed casino, but the Kansas Legislature earlier this year refused to approve the deal.