Wyandotte Nation may build Kansas casino - Tuesday 25th of March 2008

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is considering acquiring 11 acres in suburban Wichita from the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma, which could allow the tribe to build a casino there.

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The federal agency made its plans known in a letter to the Sedgwick County commissioners.

The tribe has owned the land in Park City, south of the closed Wichita Greyhound Park, since 1992. If its to be used for a tribal casino, the land must be placed in trust and transferred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Billy Friend, second chief of the Wyandotte Nation, said the tribe has no immediate plans to develop gambling in Park City. In the past, it has discussed developing the site as a truck stop.

Federal agency takes first step

The bureaus March 6 letter to Sedgwick County asks for an assessment of tax impact if the property is taken off the tax rolls. The county responded Wednesday with a breakdown of the property taxes and special assessments Park City levies for sewer improvements. The county provides fire and ambulance services for the property and its zoned light industrial.

Friend said the tribe applied to the bureau for trust status a year or two ago, and the process can take years. Sending a letter to local authorities is the first step. Later in the process, the public would have a chance to comment.

If the Park City land is placed in a federal trust for the Wyandotte Nation, Friend said, the tribe will not have to pay state or county taxes. The Wyandottes and the federal government would have jurisdiction over the property.

Kansas has four tribal casinos, all on reservation land in the northeastern part of the state.

Last year, Sedgwick County voters refused to approve a state-owned casino and slot machines for the greyhound track. Four developers have filed applications with the Kansas Lottery Commission to operate a resort casino in neighboring Sumner County, where voters did approve gambling.

In January, the Wyandotte Nation opened a casino in Kansas City, Kan., after an 11-year court battle. It features 400 Class II wagering games, which play like slot machines but pit players against each other in networks based on bingo odds. Actual slot machines are Class III gambling.

"All energy is going toward getting a compact negotiated with Kansas for the Kansas City property,” Friend said. "There hasnt been any discussion on Park City. Thats not to say somewhere down the line we may consider it.”

Tribes battle in Kansas City rages on

Friend said the tribe seeks a compact with the state that would allow slot machines and table games at the Kansas City casino.

Last fall, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver sided with the Wyandotte Nation in its legal battle with the state and dismissed the case.

It ruled that a legal challenge to the casino came after the land was placed into trust, insulating the government from the states lawsuit and leaving the federal courts with no jurisdiction. Even so, state officials believe the casino is illegal.

The Wyandotte Nation bought the sites in Park City and Kansas City with land claim settlement funds provided by an act of Congress. After years of legal battles, a federal judge declared that the tribe is entitled to an exception in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that allows gambling away from existing reservations. The state contends money the tribe used to buy the Kansas City land wasnt allowed for such purposes, disqualifying it for use as a casino. It has declined to negotiate a compact.

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