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Archive for Thursday, September 18, 2003

Oklahoma tribe proposes casino near The Woodlands

September 18, 2003

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— Another proposal for a casino in Wyandotte County, near The Woodlands parimutuel racing complex, is being promoted by an Indian tribe from Oklahoma that has negotiated an agreement giving it a three-year option to buy land from the city.

The 37-page agreement will be considered today by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., said Hal Walker, attorney for the government.

Preliminary plans of the Delaware tribe, which has its headquarters near Bartlesville, Okla., call for a $150 million development that would include a casino, hotel and entertainment complex on the 34-acre site directly in front of the racing complex. The tribe is working with the Las Vegas-based Gillman Group. President Fred Gillman said his firm had developed seven tribal casinos in California and New Mexico.

The project would require state and federal approval, which is not a sure thing. If approved, the tribe would pay the city $2 million for the land, plus a share of future revenues -- 4.2 percent for the first seven years and 6.5 percent annually after that.

Walker said that in the early 1800s the Delaware tribe claimed ownership of Wyandotte County and most of neighboring Leavenworth County. The tribe remained in Kansas from 1829 to the mid-1860s, when the government relocated it to Oklahoma.

But it is technically landless, having been a tenant on the Cherokee tribe's Oklahoma reservation since 1866.

"We are a landless tribe," Delaware Chief Joe Brooks said. "We have a right to go back to any former reservation and put it in trust" with the federal government, which is the first of several casino hurdles the tribe faces.

Brooks said the tribe has at least 10,000 members, and that in a vote five years ago 80 percent favored it going ahead with efforts to operate a casino, which he said would provide money for health care, education and cultural preservation.

The tribe recently approached officials in Lawrence about locating a casino there, but city officials were cool to the idea, Gillman said.

Bill Grace, controlling partner of the group that owns The Woodlands, has for years sought approval from the Kansas Legislature to develop a casino and resort hotel at the racetrack complex. He said Tuesday that he planned to try again next year, and cast doubt on the possibility of the Delaware tribe's plan ever being approved.

"This whole Delaware thing is smoke," Grace said. "I don't think they have any intention of building a casino in Kansas when they have better opportunities and better earning potential in other locations."

Two other tribes have proposed casino and resort hotel projects near the Kansas Speedway, the popular NASCAR racing track that has been a catalyst for rapid commercial development in the area.

The Sac and Fox and Kickapoo tribes, which operate casinos north of Topeka, signed a similar agreement with the city in May for a jointly owned casino just west of the speedway.

The Wyandotte tribe of Oklahoma once signed a similar development and revenue-sharing agreement with the city for a casino to be built in partnership with The Woodlands, but the tribe has since shifted its efforts to a site south of the Kansas Speedway.

Last month, over city objections, the Wyandotte tribe opened a small casino on land adjacent to its historic tribal cemetery in downtown Kansas City, Kan. State officials are seeking to close the operation, saying the tribe has no authority to offer public gambling there.

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