Wyandotte Tribe: Park City casino could open late this year

A tribal casino could open in Park City by the end of this year, an official with the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma says.

That would be well ahead of a state-owned casino in Sumner County.

Billy Friend, second chief of the tribe, said he learned recently that the tribe's application to have the U.S. Department of the Interior put its 10.5 acres in Park City into trust for gambling purposes could be approved within 30 days.

"If everything happened just right — which doesn't happen very often with government — the best-case scenario, you'd like to be open around Christmas," Friend said.

The application, which has been pending in the Interior Department since January 2009, has been signed by the department's solicitor and awaits the signature of Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Larry Echo Hawk, he said.

After that, the application would have to be approved by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, which would largely be a formality, Friend said.

There would be a 30-day period for comment and appeal before the land officially is in trust.

A spokeswoman in the Interior Department did not return calls seeking to confirm that the process is moving along.

Friend said the tribe could start turning dirt at the site in April or May. It probably would open a $20 million to $30 million Class II, or bingo-style, casino with 1,000 to 1,200 slot machines and a small restaurant.

Developers of the Chisholm Creek Casino Resort in Sumner County have planned a first-phase $125 million facility with 1,300 slots and 40 gaming tables operating under Class III, or Las Vegas-style, rules.

If the Wyandotte tribe negotiates a compact with Gov. Mark Parkinson's office to allow it to conduct Class III gaming in Park City, the project could be expanded to add entertainment and retail space, Friend said.

In addition to the 10.5 acres it owns for the casino, the tribe is negotiating for another 97 acres with Florida developer AHG Group, owners of the defunct Wild West World theme park nearby.

Chisholm Creek, citing possible competition for its casino near Mulvane, renegotiated its contract with the Kansas Lottery to phase in its amenities depending on if and when the Park City casino is built.

A tribal casino would face little regulation and not pay taxes. As a state-owned casino, Chisholm Creek would be regulated by the state and pay 27 percent of its gaming revenue to the state and local governments.

The state filed an objection to the tribe's application in 2008. Asked whether it would appeal federal action to put the tribal land in trust for gaming, Ashley Anstaett, communications director for Attorney General Steve Six, said, "We would review the decision and then determine whether an appeal would be appropriate."

Six had argued in 2008 to the Bureau of Indian Affairs regional office in Oklahoma that the Wyandotte have no historical connection to the Park City land, that voters in Sedgwick County had rejected casinos, and that the casino would be 270 miles from the tribe's reservation in Ottawa County, Okla., and therefore wouldn't create jobs on the reservation.

"I think he's looking at the wrong argument," Friend said. "It's not an off-reservation (case), it's a land-claim settlement."

The tribe bought the 10.5 acres in 1992 with congressional land-claim settlement funds. The tribe claimed it never was properly reimbursed for land the government took from it in Sandusky, Ohio, in 1843.

Chisholm Creek plans

Chisholm Creek's revised contract provides scenarios for phasing in its games and amenities depending on the Wyandotte casino, but none specify what would happen if the Wyandotte casino opens first.

Ed Van Petten, the Lottery's executive director, said the scenario under which Park City opens within five years of Chisholm Creek would probably apply in that case.

Chisholm Creek could ask to reopen negotiations, he said. Until the Kansas Racing and Gaming commission gives final approval of the contract, "it's kind of a fluid situation," Van Petten said.

Tim Cope, president of Lakes Entertainment, which would build and manage the Sumner County casino, couldn't be reached for comment. In a written statement after the contract was signed last week, he said, "We have started pre-development work and intend to open the casino within 18 months of receiving all necessary approvals."

Friend said he was unhappy Chisholm Creek used the tribe's Park City plans as "an excuse" to ask the state in December to renegotiate its contract so it could phase in the total minimum investment of $225 million required by state law. It should have known about the tribe's land-in-trust application long before.

"For them to just throw us in there, that's a little disappointing," he said.

Chisholm Creek should welcome the tribal casino because it would create a "cluster gaming effect," Friend said.

"It's no different than Vegas on the strip. One casino feeds off the other," he said.

One state financial consultant has estimated that a Class II tribal casino in Park City would slice into the gambling revenue of a casino in Mulvane by 21.5 percent.

But Friend said there are 12 casinos around a Wyandotte facility in Ottawa County, Okla., and "we all survive."

"Chances are we will have to operate without a compact. Then it would look like we're more at a disadvantage than they would be," he said.

Tribal compact?

If the tribe negotiates a compact with the governor's office, the Wyandotte would expand the Park City project into a $50 million to $80 million facility with a hotel and entertainment venue, Friend said.

The governor's office has said it won't negotiate a compact with the tribe until its appeal of a lawsuit against the tribe's casino in Kansas City is resolved.

That case has lingered in the courts for more than a decade. It was argued before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver in November.

Friend said he's been told by attorneys a ruling is imminent. Attorneys in Six's office declined to discuss the appeal.

Patrick Hurley, Parkinson's chief counsel, said if the Park City land is taken into trust by the Interior Department, "We're going to sit down and take a look at all the circumstances and determine how to move forward."

The issue is complicated because the state would have to consider many factors, including the four existing tribal compacts and the fact that the state would own the Sumner County casino.

If a compact isn't reached with the Wyandotte, the federal government could impose one on the state, Hurley said.

Friend said the Wyandotte tribe should be treated the same as the tribes who have compacts with the state.

Unlike those tribes, the Wyandotte would share revenue with local governments, including Sedgwick County and Park City, Friend said.

The tribe has given $460,000 to the Unified Government of Wyandotte County since its Kansas City casino opened in 2008, he said.

Friend said a Class II casino in Park City would provide 700 to 800 jobs. If the tribe develops the additional 97 acres, the extra amenities and retail space would create. 2,500 to 3,000 jobs.

"We just feel if we get a compact with the state we could open a nice casino resort there,'' Friend said. "It would bring a lot of business around that. We'll feed one another and create a synergy."