Proposal for Indian casino in downtown KCK moves ahead

Kansas City, Kansas (AP) 9-07

Wyandotte County’s Unified Government has endorsed a revenue-sharing agreement with an American Indian tribe that wants to build a casino in downtown Kansas City, Kan.

The agreement comes even as the state is appealing a federal court ruling that allowed the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma to open a casino in a former Masonic temple, after more than a decade of controversy.

“We believe it is reckless to proceed with Class II gaming before all legal issues are resolved,” said Ashley P. Anstaett, spokeswoman for Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison.

Anstaett said current law prohibits the tribe from conducting gambling on the site if it is not gaming-eligible Indian land. The state contends that when the tribe bought the half-acre site in 1996, it used federal money not allowed for such purposes, disqualifying the land for a casino.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver has heard arguments in the case, and lawyers say a ruling is expected soon.

Hal Walker, chief counsel for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., said the agreement approved Thursday was negotiated with the assumption that the state will lose its appeal.

“The consensus among attorneys in all parties is ... that it’s very probable, almost without doubt, that (the tribe is) going to win the appeal,” Walker said.

Under the agreement approved Thursday, the Wyandotte Nation would reimburse the Unified Government for water, police, fire and other municipal services to its proposed $20 million casino.

Any casino opened at the site would be restricted to providing only Class II games, which play like slot machines but pit players against each other in networks based on bingo odds. The city has agreed to support the tribe if it tries to get state approval to add traditional games such as craps and blackjack.

The tribal casino is separate from a proposal to open a state-owned casino in Wyandotte County. That casino would be owned by the state and operated by a private developer.

The Wyandotte tribe briefly offered slots in mobile units on the site, but in 2004, the National Indian Gaming Commission said the land the tribe claimed in downtown Kansas City, Kan., did not qualify as tribal land for gambling purposes.

That decision was overturned last summer by U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson, and it is that ruling the state is appealing.

As the court case goes on, the tribe has hired contractors to resume remodeling work to convert the Masonic Lodge into a casino with around 400 slots and a steakhouse.

“The people of KCK will never be sorry the Wyandottes are part of their community,” Wyandotte Nation Chief Leaford Bearskin said Thursday. “It will be good for both of us.”

Thursday’s agreement would give the Unified Government 3.5 percent of the first $10 million in casino revenue, 1 percent from the next $10 million and one-third of a percent from the third $10 million. The Unified Government would get nothing from revenue exceeding $30 million.

The city also agreed to provide free parking in city lots to casino customers.

The agreement also requires the tribe to follow zoning, building and public safety codes similar to those enforced by the city.

If the state wins its appeal, Walker said the casino could not operate. The tribe could still negotiate a formal compact with the state to open a full-scale Class III casino on the site, which the Unified Government has agreed to support.

Information from: The Kansas City Star,