Tribal casino proposed for amusement park site near Wichita

The Wichita area may get a tribal casino.

On Wednesday a Florida developer with close ties to an Oklahoma tribe bought at a federal bankruptcy court auction for $2.15 million the failed Wild West World amusement park in neighboring Park City, Kan.

The 10-acre amusement park site, along Interstate 35 north of Wichita, is contiguous to a tract of land owned since 1992 by the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma.

The tribe in January opened the 7th Street Casino in downtown Kansas City, Kan., and has formally asked the federal government for a similar deal in Park City.

The company that bought the park, AHG Group LLC, headed by Maitland, Fla., developer Alan Ginsburg, has long been associated with the Wyandottes and was one of the earliest financial backers of the tribe's 7th Street Casino.

A former state lawmaker and spokesman for AHG isn’t ruling out a casino.

“If Park City wants to talk about that, we’ll talk about that,” said Doug Spangler, a former Kansas state legislator and one-time aide to a former Kansas City, Kan., mayor.

Park City definitely wants to talk about it.

In an interview Wednesday, Park City Mayor Dee Stuart said she supports gamnbling and credits her election three years ago to her pro-gambling stance.

“I would think a majority of the city and the city council would support it too,” she said.

Stuart said a casino and its shops and restaurants could be a big part of an emerging entertainment corridor in the city that, within a mile or so, also includes the Kansas Colesium, a closed dog racing track and 5,000-seat sports arena under construction.

The tribe has already taken the first steps toward a casino in Park City. In 2006 it formally petitioned the U.S. government to take its Park City land into trust and declare it qualified for tribal casino gambling under federal law.

Beginning in 1996 the tribe followed a similar path in winning trust status for its land in Wyandotte County.

Once trust status is granted tribes under federal law can offer bingo-based slot machines, like the ones at the 7th Street Casino, without state or local government approval.

Kansas -- a would-be casino competitor in the Wichita market -- is already on record against the project.

When the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs in March of this year finally sought formal responses to the tribe’s application, Kansas Assistant Attorney General Steve Phillips answered sharply:

“This trust application for gaming purposes is completely inappropriate,” wrote Phillips. “The Wyandotte Nation can show no historical connection to the land,” he added, noting the site is around 270 miles from the tribe’s Oklahoma reservation in Wyandotte, Okla.

The U.S. Interior Department earlier this year spelled out guidelines that give strict new scrutiny to off-reservation casino proposals that lie beyond reasonable daily commuting distance for reservation residents.

Phillips also noted Sedgwick County voters rejected two measures to allow state-owned slot machines in the county, including at the nearby Wichita Greyhound Park that later closed.

“The Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma’s proposed gaming use of the Park City land is directly contrary to the expressed views of Sedgwick County’s citizens,” Phillips said.

Stuart noted that Park City voters favored state-owned casinos.

Now, however, the Kansas Lottery and other state agencies are moving toward selection in August of one of three casino management firms that are seeking a contract to operate a state-owned casino in Sumner County, south of Wichita.

Officials in the Kansas Attorney General's office had no immediate comment Wednesday.

Ginsburg was among the tribe’s earliest financial backers of its 7th Street Casino.

In 2005 company records that emerged in a related court case indicated Ginsburg’s North American Sports Management Inc. of Maitland, Fla., paid at least $5,000 toward the tribe’s 1996 purchase of the former Masonic temple that became the 7th Street Casino.

The Ginsburg group’s role in that 1996 real estate deal is one element of the state’s pending lawsuit challenging the legality of 7th Street Casino under federal Indian law.

In 1997 the tribe and Ginsburg’s interests were part of a group that proposed a partnership with The Woodlands and others to operate tribal gaming there.