Monday, February 14, 2005

Tribes Placing Their Bets For Ohio Casinos

:: G A M B L I N G N E W S ::

Feb 14, 2005
American Indian tribes that once thrived on the unspoiled expanse of Ohio want to reclaim ancestral lands -- for the spoils of casino gambling. At least three tribes have pitched glitzy casino development as an option to the bruising statehouse politics and failed statewide votes that have kept Las Vegas-style gambling out of Ohio.
The tribes have caught the eye of Ohioans and their elected leaders with the alluring prospects of casinos -- employment of thousands, spin-off hotels and commerce and tens of millions of dollars for lean tax coffers.
But the reality is this: What out-of- state tribes are attempting in Ohio has never been done in the United States.
No tribe has crossed the borders of its home state to open a casino elsewhere. It's not impossible, experts say, but it's likely to be a time-consuming process with no certainty of success.
The Eastern Shawnee, Wyandot and Ottawa tribes pursuing casinos in Ohio are from Oklahoma.
The Eastern Shawnees and Wyandots operate casinos there, while the Ottawa tribe has none.
All three have historic roots in the Buckeye State.
They say they are ready to make claims to place land in federal trust and open casinos under an agreement, or compact, with Ohio's elected leaders.
Such compacts could allow casinos at sites outside the tribe's ancestral grounds, such as downtown Cleveland.
"Indian-law experts will tell you there's nothing under the law that says it can't be done," said Terry Casey, a Columbus consultant representing the Eastern Shawnee tribe.
Casey and Eastern Shawnee Chief Charles Enyart have created a tribal-casino buzz across the state.
The tribe has announced plans for two casino resorts in western Ohio. Casey and Enyart huddled with 24 state legislators last month, and they have the ear of Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell, who wants a casino downtown.
Casey, former executive director of the Franklin County Republican Party, met with city officials three times in recent weeks. Enyart met with Campbell on Friday. He said the mayor left wearing an Eastern Shawnee lapel pin.
Chris Ronayne, the mayor's chief of staff, heard their pitch.
"It's all about the tribe being a literal vehicle to deliver a casino," Ronayne said. "The mayor is questioning their assumptions, what they really could deliver."
Campbell has said the city's best option for landing a casino is through a statewide ballot issue that would change the Ohio Constitution, allowing home-rule cities to vote on casinos.
She wants the issue on November's ballot, but that looks to be a tall order. She needs support of the business community. Joe Roman, head of Greater Cleveland Partnership, said the regional business group is several months away from taking a stand. It first wants to do a $300,000 study of the potential market for Ohio casinos.
Different approaches in tribal campaigns
The tribes said they have a better way, and the Eastern Shawnees have been most aggressive.
The tribe reached a revenue- sharing agreement with Monroe officials last week, for a proposed $750 million casino-and-retail complex on land along Interstate 75, between Cincinnati and Dayton.
Last November, the tribe announced plans for a $145 million casino development near Botkins, off I-75 between Dayton and Toledo.
The tribe also is eyeing sites in Lorain and Lordstown in Trumbull County.
The Wyandots, meanwhile, are conducting a lower-key campaign.
A contingent representing the tribe met with Campbell in late January. The group included Greg Hill, president of Sawmill Creek Resort in Huron. Sandusky developer Bill Janowich said the group is "just nosing around to see what we could do in Cleveland."
The Wyandots have historic roots in the city, having once lived on the banks of the Cuyahoga River, Janowich said.
The tribe's plan calls for four or more casino resorts in northern Ohio that would generate $1 billion in revenue, up to 3,000 jobs and about $100 million in taxes to the state, local governments and schools.
The casinos would serve the tourism meccas at Cedar Point and the Lake Erie islands, the tribe said.
The Ottawa tribe is pursuing casino development in the Toledo area, said Perrysburg lawyer Bill Caughey. He declined to comment further.
Last June, Caughey said a compact between the state and the Ottawas for a Toledo-area casino could yield $200 million a year for Ohio, according to the Toledo Blade newspaper.
'Friendly' rivals in pursuing casinos
The three tribes are in a "friendly competition" to land a casino, said Enyart, the Shawnee chief.
The tribes are in proximity in western Oklahoma. The Shawnees and Wyandots jointly operate a health-care clinic. Enyart's cousin, Ellis Enyart, handles gambling development for the Wyandots.
The Shawnees have asked the two other tribes to work together in establishing casinos, but there has been little response to the offer, chief Enyart said.
The Shawnees also reached out to racetrack owners, who have pursued slot machines for years, and to local casino developers including Jacobs Investments and Forest City Enterprises.
Forest City Co-Chairman Sam Miller said his company is not interested. In a written statement, developer Jeff Jacobs said "many peace pipes have to be smoked before all this becomes reality."
In fact, there is no precedent for what the tribes want to do in Ohio. But they are part of a trend - tribes trying to leave their reservations and allotted lands to open casinos in markets with greater wealth.
The Seneca-Cayuga tribe of Oklahoma soon could become the first to establish a casino outside its home state, said Blake Watson, a University of Dayton law professor who is an expert in tribal-gaming laws. The tribe has established a claim on land in New York and is working on a settlement that would allow it to open a casino in the Catskills.
But no outside tribes have established land claims in Ohio, Watson said. Tribes transferred most of their land under treaties with the United States dating from 1795 to 1818, Watson said.
Tribes can contest the legitimacy of those treaties by filing land claims in federal court. Casey said the Shawnees could make 14 such claims, covering hundreds of thousands of acres in southwestern Ohio.
The tribes would prefer a less thorny route. They could ask the U.S. Department of Interior to place into trust land from the tribes' ancestral grounds or from their last reservation.
The tribes must show federal authorities that casinos would not harm surrounding communities. Federal officials also consider how far the development is from the tribes' homelands.
Taft opposition considered critical
Even if the land is placed in trust, tribes would still need a compact with the governor and legislature for casinos. Tribes have signed 249 such compacts across the United States, under which the tribes typically share profits from gambling.
Tribes face an uphill battle in Ohio. Gov. Bob Taft has said he opposes any expansion of gambling.
Without the state's approval, the tribe would be limited to the kinds of gambling nonprofit groups do, such as bingo, pull- tabs and "Las Vegas Night" games, including poker, craps and roulette. Tribes would not have to share any of those profits with the state.
The Shawnees want to build support with state legislators before they approach Taft.
"We know it's not a cakewalk, but we think we have something legitimate to offer," Enyart said.
Opposition from traditional anti-gambling forces will be stiff. David Zanotti, director of the Ohio Roundtable, said American Indian tribes "cop the biggest attitude in the gambling world." "Their attitude is, 'We will push for whatever we can get, however we can get it, and if we don't get it, we'll sue,' " Zanotti said.
Post a Comment