Kansas City, Kan. After an 11-year battle to get a gambling hall in downtown Kansas City, Kan., the Oklahoma-based Wyandotte Nation is marking the first anniversary of its 7th Street Casino today with little fanfare but a lot of confidence that it has proven itself worthy of running such a venture.
A year ago, Wyandotte Nation Chief Leaford Bearskin conducted a pipe ceremony and Mayor Joe Reardon cut a ribbon to open the casino in a former Masonic lodge. On Thursday, even Bearskin was a little surprised that a year had gone by since that gala opening.
“We told the people up there that Kansas City would never be sorry that the Wyandottes are in town,” Bearskin said in an interview from Oklahoma, where many members of the tribe moved after spending 11 years in Wyandotte County in the mid-1800s. “We still say that.”
Reardon said he has been pleased with the cooperation of the Wyandotte Nation and the quality of its project. He said he also is happy with the additional tax revenue the city has received.
When it opened, the casino was expected to gross between $15 million and $20 million a year, pumping much-needed tax money into the coffers of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan. To date, the local government has received roughly $397,000 in tax proceeds from the facility.
Second Chief Billy Friend estimated that the casino grossed between $13 million and $15 million between Jan. 10 and Sept. 30, the end of the facility’s fiscal year.
“It’s been a great success the first year,” Friend said. “It has met all of our expectations as far as head count and revenue count. It’s done everything we expected it to, even in a slumping economy.”
Reardon called the casino an important piece of the puzzle in the city’s efforts to improve its urban core.
‘Going very well’
The tribe began its efforts to open a casino in 1996, buying the former Scottish Rite temple and surrounding half-acre of land. It sits on a portion of the thousands of acres of land the Wyandotte tribe acquired from the Delaware Nation in the mid-1800s.
The three-story building now houses a steakhouse, lounge and a casino with more than 500 Class II slot machines. Denominations range from penny slots to $25, and gamblers have won jackpots of up to $100,000 there, according to the casino’s marketing director.
“It’s going very well,” Bearskin said.
But the Kansas attorney general’s office still contends the casino is illegal and has appealed a federal judge’s order dismissing the state’s challenge to the operation. That appeal, before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, is still in the briefing phase, said Ashley Anstaett, spokeswoman for Attorney General Steve Six.
The state argues that the Wyandotte Nation improperly bought the building and land for the casino using federal funds that were not allowed for such purposes.
Dave McCullough, an Oklahoma City attorney and the tribe’s general counsel, said that despite the state’s appeal, the casino is going strong and the Wyandottes are confident that the matter will be resolved in their favor.
“From the Wyandotte perspective, we’re open because we prevailed in all the litigation that’s gone before,” he said. “The state still has an appeal ongoing, but obviously that litigation doesn’t keep us from gaming.”