Shawnee may face obstacles building casino in Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (AP) 11-07

A tribe may face an uphill battle to build a casino, hotel and other attractions along Interstate 35 in northeast Oklahoma City.

The Shawnee Tribe has a contract to buy and develop 104 acres on the west side of I-35 between Britton Road and Wilshire Boulevard, said Greg Pitcher, chairman of Shawnee Development LLC, the tribe’s economic development arm.

Britton Road Development LLC paid $4.5 million for the land, Pitcher said. The tribe has contracted to take title if its trust status is approved, he said. Such a contract is enough for the tribe to seek trust status, Pitcher said.

An official with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs said the property might not qualify as trust land – required for a casino – since the tribe has no historical tie to it.

If the trust application is OK’d, the property will become the tribe’s first, and only, land base, Pitcher said.

A casino in that location would “entirely devastate” nearby Remington Park Racing Casino, general manager Scott Wells said. Mayor Mick Cornett said he does not support it.

The tribe’s efforts to open a casino downtown were stifled two years ago.

“I remain unconvinced that it is in our best interest to allow a tribal casino there or anywhere else,” Cornett said. “I’m willing to talk to them.”

Tribes that have been restored through congressional action must prove a historical connection to the land they are seeking to have placed in trust for them, said George Skibine, head of Indian gaming for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Shawnee Tribe is based in Miami, Okla.

Pitcher said the project would be a perfect fit for the area, which includes Remington Park, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, the Oklahoma City Zoo, the National Softball Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Firefighters Museum, Tinseltown Theatre and Science Museum Oklahoma.

Promoters acknowledge the need for an area hotel, Pitcher said. He said he thought the tribe’s casino and Remington would complement one another.

Wells said another casino so close would not only affect Remington Park but the state’s horse industry and its “thousands of jobs.”

“I think it’s a shame that one business decision could completely undermine what 60 percent of Oklahomans” decided in 2004 when they approved State Question 712, Wells said. The vote allowed gambling machines at Remington and other horse tracks.

Wells said a hotel would be welcome.

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum also would welcome a hotel and increased area traffic, said Charles P. Schroeder, executive director.

Information from: The Oklahoman