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Archive for Thursday, January 27, 2011

Compact between Kansas and Wyandotte Nation over KC casino faces opposition in Legislature

January 27, 2011

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— A proposed compact between Kansas and an Oklahoma-based Indian tribe to allow it to upgrade the gambling machines at its Kansas City, Kan., casino generated strong opposition Wednesday and appeared unlikely to win the Legislature's approval.

The deal, signed in December by outgoing Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson, would permit the Wyandotte Nation to have slot machines at the casino rather than electronic bingo games. The agreement does not allow table games, such as blackjack, and the tribe has acknowledged it lacks the space for them.

The Wyandotte Nation also hopes to build a casino north of Wichita and is waiting for the U.S. Interior Department to sign off. Kansas officials have opposed the project, and the compact signed by Parkinson doesn't cover it — though it's an issue as the Kansas City, Kan., compact is considered.

The Legislature must approve compacts between the state and Indian tribes, and the Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations began reviewing the agreement Wednesday. Kansas' four tribes, which each operate a casino under a compact, oppose the Wyandotte agreement and told the committee it is flawed.

New Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's administration agrees and wants the committee to return to the compact to the governor's office for further negotiations. Some committee members also are skeptical of the deal.

"I'm thinking they'll send it back," said the committee's chairman, state Sen. Pete Brungardt, a Salina Republican.

The committee plans to hear next week to from the Wyandotte Nation. Spokesman Doug Spangler, a former Kansas House member, said the opposition to Parkinson's compact is expected.

"We look forward to answering the committee's questions and working through the process," he said after the committee's meeting.

Federal law allows tribes to operate limited games, including bingo, without a compact and full casino-style gambling with such agreements. The state's four tribes have operated their casinos in northeast Kansas since the 1990s, covering costs associated with state oversight but giving up no other revenues.

The state has a lottery, and a 2007 law allows it to contract with private developers to operate a single casino in each of four areas. A state-owned casino opened in December 2009 in Dodge City, and another is under construction in Kansas City, Kan. The state claims 22 percent of the revenues.

The Wyandottes opened their casino in downtown Kansas City, Kan., in 2008, near the end of lengthy federal court disputes with state officials. Parkinson's administration began negotiating the compact in August, after an unfavorable ruling from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma-based tribe won over many local officials by agreeing to share up to $1.65 million of its annual revenues with the unified city-county government.

"There's some validity in moving forward with this compact," said state Rep. Tom Burroughs, a Kansas City Democrat who's a member of the joint committee.

Carol Foreman, a now-retired acting administration secretary who negotiated the compact for Parkinson's administration, said states have a duty under federal law to negotiate with the tribes in good faith. She said the administration believed it couldn't push the Wyandottes to set an expiration date on the compact or share its revenues with the state because the other tribes don't have such provisions in their compacts.

"It's hard to get your hands around what that, really, 'good faith,' means," she told the committee. "But the collective opinion was that a compact with the Wyandotte had to be similar to the existing ones."

But representatives of the four Kansas tribes — the Iowa, the Kickapoo, the Prairie Band Potawatomi and the Sac and Fox — strongly disagree. They also noted that if the Wyandottes get permission to build a casino north of Wichita, they'll have two.

The compact also describes the Wyandotte casino site in Kansas City, Kan., as a reservation, rather than land placed in trust by the federal government. The other tribes strongly object, having had reservations within the state's borders long before tribal gambling was permitted.

As for Brownback's administration, chief counsel Caleb Stegall said after the meeting, "We have significant concerns about some of the technical language in the compact. Those things have to be addressed."

Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican on the joint committee, said Parkinson's administration negotiated the compact with the Wyandotte Nation under "the incorrect assumption" that it had to be similar to the other compacts.

"I don't know what happened in the governor's office in the past few months, but it doesn't make much sense," he said.

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