The Oklahoma-based Indian tribe that purchased nearly 90 acres of prime North Lawrence property is embroiled in a federal lawsuit that suggests the tribe recently had strong interest in building a casino in Kansas.
Documents filed as part of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tulsa, Okla., included a June 2011 development agreement that the Delaware Tribe of Indians signed with a company that would be involved with financing and building a casino in Kansas, at an undisclosed location somewhere near Kansas City.
Since the Delaware tribe last month purchased 87 acres of highly visible property near the North Lawrence interchange on the Kansas Turnpike, tribal leaders have declined to discuss whether they have any interest in putting an Indian gaming casino on the property. The tribe has expressed interest in using the land for housing, health care and child care facilities to serve the state's Native American population. There also have been published reports that the tribe is considering moving its headquarters to Kansas.
In 2000, the tribe expressed strong interest in building a casino near North Lawrence, but dropped those plans. The lawsuit, which was filed in February, indicates the tribe's interest in a Kansas casino has lingered. The tribe reportedly has also inquired about property in Leavenworth County and told county officials a casino was a possibility there.
It's not clear what connection the tribe's Kansas City and Leavenworth ambitions may have to its land purchase in Lawrence. A tribal leader didn't return phone calls Thursday seeking comment.
According to court records, the Delaware tribe and its affiliated Delaware Enterprise Authority signed a development agreement in 2010 with Ohio-based River Trails LLC. The original agreement was focused on River Trails finding a site and financing to house a Delaware Indian casino on property near Cincinnati.
But the documents show that in mid-2011, Delaware leaders successfully sought a change in the agreement that would shift the focus to finding a casino site in the "greater Kansas City area of the state of Kansas."
According to court records, the focus on Kansas may be related to a settlement agreement the tribe is negotiating with the U.S. Department of Interior and the Department of Justice. The filings show that the Delaware filed a complaint in 2002 that the federal government had not properly disbursed judgment funds awarded to the tribe.
The records show that in 2011, the tribe still was in settlement negotiations with the two federal agencies. The development agreement includes statements that there have been discussions between the tribe and the federal agencies that a future settlement could include an agreement to place recently acquired lands into federal trust.
Placing property into trust is one of the steps required before Indian land can be used to locate a casino. Currently, the Delaware tribe is considered landless because it occupies land in Oklahoma controlled by the Cherokee Nation.
The development agreement also alludes to the possibility that the Department of Interior might encourage the tribe to seek property in Kansas because the state was the last area the tribe had its own reservation, which was taken by the government shortly after the Civil War.
"In the event that the Department of the Interior advises the tribe that a fee-to-trust application in the greater Kansas City area of the state of Kansas is preferred and will be processed much more efficiently and expeditiously than a fee-to-trust application in the state of Ohio, the developer and the tribe each agree to jointly pursue a casino in the greater Kansas City area of the state of Kansas," the development agreement says.
Attempts to reach a spokeswoman within the Department of the Interior — which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs — to confirm the status of settlement negotiations were not successful.
River Trails LLC is suing both the tribe and the Delaware Enterprise Authority over an alleged breach of contract. The development group contends that the tribe in November declined to enter into an agreement that would allow River Trails to lease gaming machines to a Delaware casino. River Trails also alleges that the tribe has been "slow playing" the Kansas project by refusing to "consider appropriate sites in Kansas."
River Trails is seeking in excess of $2.6 million from the tribe. River Trails had been paying the tribe at least $25,000 per month since the beginning of the original development agreement for the rights to develop a casino for the tribe.
The Delaware tribe has not yet filed with the court an answer to the allegations made by River Trails.