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Delaware chief: Tribe doesn’t have immediate plans for North Lawrence casino

The odds that North Lawrence will be getting an Indian casino anytime soon may have decreased just a bit.

Ever since we reported in July that the Oklahoma-based Delaware Tribe of Indians purchased a prime piece of property along the interstate in North Lawrence, new information about the tribe's plans has been slow to materialize.

Well, new information is starting to churn, thanks to the tribe's quarterly newsletter, which came out today. In it, tribal officials made statements that indicate a casino really isn't in the tribe's immediate future.

"We are in the process of putting together the application for Land-in-Trust Non-Gaming," Chief Paula Pechonick wrote in the tribe's publication, the Delaware Indian News.

The trust application is a key piece of paperwork. The trust process is how the federal government recognizes land as "Indian land," which conveys a special status as owned by a sovereign, federally-recognized Indian tribe. As officials with the Bureau of Indian Affairs have explained to me, there are two types of trust applications — one that would allow an Indian casino to be located on the land and one that would not allow a casino.

News that the tribe is pursuing a non-gaming trust for the property, the longtime Pine Family Farms sod farm property just east of the Kansas Turnpike interchange in North Lawrence, is significant. Previously, tribal officials had refused to make any definitive statements about the issue of Indian gaming.

What the tribe told me in July is that its plans were likely to include housing, child care and a medical clinic to serve a portion of the state's American Indian population. But on the issue of whether a casino would be a part of the plans as well, tribal officials told me that was a subject they weren't yet prepared to discuss.

If tribal officials follow through and file a non-gaming application for the North Lawrence property, that would be the clearest indication yet that the tribe isn't planning on a casino — at least not for that particular piece of property.

The several articles in the newsletter about the tribe's Kansas land purchase make it clear there is a strong desire on the part of tribal leaders to establish at least the tribe's administrative headquarters on Kansas land. That would resolve a situation where the tribe currently is located on land controlled by the Cherokee Nation, which can make it difficult for the Delawares to receive direct grants and other financial payments from the federal government.

The newsletter also reports that Chief Pechonick and other tribal leaders met with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback in late August to discuss the land purchase. According to the report, Brownback asked to tribe to consider holding a town hall meeting in Lawrence to spell out in more detail what the tribe hopes to do with the Lawrence property. The newsletter made no mention of a date being set yet for such a meeting.

It also is probably worth noting that the newsletter didn't have any articles or statements disavowing any future interest in a casino in the Lawrence area. Probably the key question, which I don't have the answer to, is whether an application to put this land into trust for non-gaming purposes forever closes the door on the property being used as a casino. Based on conversations I've had with a few people familiar with the issue, I don't think it does, but I'm still looking for someone to be more definitive on that point. I've chatted with several people about land in trust issues over the past couple of months, and all I'm really certain of at the moment is that it is complicated.

But it is worth remembering why the question of a casino arose in the first place. I'd say there are at least three big reasons:

• In 2000, the Delaware tribe publicly expressed strong interest in building a casino complex on 80 acres of North Lawrence property in the same vicinity.

As we reported in August, the Delaware tribe is involved in a federal lawsuit in Oklahoma where court records indicate the tribe in 2011 entered into a development agreement with company that would be tasked with financing and building a casino for the tribe somewhere on the Kansas side of the greater Kansas City metro area.

In March, the Leavenworth Times reported that Dee Ketchum, a former Delaware chief and a land consultant for the tribe, told the Leavenworth County Commission that the tribe was looking for property in the area for a headquarters, but acknowledged that gaming could be part of an economic development effort for the tribe, but said "that's not the whole reason for relocating."

I've got a call into Chief Pechonick, and a few other officials as well. Stay tuned for updates.

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