July 7, 2014

Federal government rejects tribe’s application for Park City casino

The federal government has rejected a proposed Indian casino in Park City.

The federal government has rejected a proposed Indian casino in Park City.

The U,S. Department of the Interior turned down an application by the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma to take land near Park City into trust for a casino, ruling that the nation could not have used money from a land-claim settlement law to buy 10.5 acres the tribe said it bought in 1992.

The Wyandotte had proposed opening a $20 million to $30 million Class II casino, with 1,000 to 1,200 slot machines and a small restaurant. The tribe’s application had been pending in the department for years.

In 2013, the federal district court ruled against a request by the tribe to force the Interior department to rule in its favor, but directed the department to make a decision, one way or the other, on the tribe’s pending application.

Wyandotte Chief Billy Friend did not immediately return a call seeking information on what the tribe would do now.

Kansas fought the tribe’s efforts.

“We think the Department of the Interior reached the correct legal conclusion in disallowing this land-into-trust application,” said Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

“This decision is one more successful step in defending Kansas law, which does not allow a tribal casino in Sedgwick County,” Schmidt said. “If there are later efforts by the tribe or others to contest the Department’s denial of the application, we will continue to vigorously defend our state’s legal interests.”

A tribal casino in Park City, which wouldn't pay any taxes, was expected to compete with the state-owned Kansas Star Casino near Mulvane.

Jack Whitson, Park City administrator, voiced unhappiness about the news.

"We're dismayed," Whitson said. "The reason I understand they turned it down — co-mingling of funds — just doesn't make a whole lot of sense." He called Interior Department’s decision ironic because the department had supported the tribe's efforts to build a casino in the Kansas City area.

"I think this is just a bogus, most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," he said.

Whitson complained that the state was wasting taxpayer money in fighting the casino. He argued that state officials should embrace the tribe's efforts to build a casino in South Central Kansas.

"The state, the governor, they say we need to bring new business here into our state. We need the economic development. We need jobs," Whitson said. "Here you're talking 1500 jobs minimum and probably more when you look at the construction jobs, and millions upon millions of dollars going into this economy."

The Wyandotte's land-in-trust application has been pending in the department since January 2009, after spending three years at a regional office in Oklahoma.

The Wyandotte nation had contended that the department had no choice but to grant the application because the tribe purchased its Park City land with land-claim settlement funds from a 1984 law passed by Congress.

That law provided the tribe $100,000 to buy land for a casino. The tribe contended that it spent $25,000 of the money for the Park City land in 1992.

The state of Kansas contended that the tribe commingled the settlement funds with other tribal money, used questionable accounting practices and came up with fictional numbers to show that the money for the Park City land came from settlement funds, when four years later it was able to spend $100,000 — plus $80,000 in accumulated interest — to buy the land for its casino in Kansas City. The purchase of the Kansas City property fulfilled the requirement of the law, the state said.

The tribe had argued that 12 years of litigation over its Kansas City property, which the tribe ultimately won, established that it had used settlement funds for the Park City land.

The tribe has said that the Interior Department twice — in October 2010 and February 2012 — came close to a decision on its Park City application and must have determined on both occasions that the money came from settlement funds.

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