Shawnee Tribe forced to look far away for off-reservation casino

Artist's rendering of the proposed Golden Mesa Casino in Guymon, Oklahoma. Image: Shawnee Tribe Environmental Assessment The Shawnee Tribe has been forced to seek a casino more than 400 miles from its headquarters due to restrictions in federal law, according to a document under review at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The tribe was restored to federal recognition through the Shawnee Status Act in 2000. But a provision in the law requires the Shawnees to seek approval from another tribe before acquiring trust land in that tribe's jurisdictional area.

Since nine other tribes -- including the much larger Cherokee Nation -- are located near Shawnee headquarters, the tribe's options are restricted. According to the BIA's environmental assessment, any land within a 100-mile radius is effectively off-limits to any kind of development.

"For all practical purposes, the only land the tribe can acquire and have placed into trust is that treated as unassigned to a tribe or within the neutral area of the Oklahoma Panhandle," the document reads.

That's why the tribe is pursuing the $25 million Golden Mesa Casino in Guymon, a city in the Panhandle. Although the area is largely rural, a market analysis predicts reaching gamblers as far away as Amarillo, Texas, and even Dodge City, Kansas. Both are about 2 hours away from Guymon.

"Amarillo and Dodge City account for the highest generators of gaming revenue due to their population size as well as the existing Boot Hill Casino in Dodge City," the study reads, referring to Boot Hill, a commercial facility in Kansas.

The tribe previously sought a casino near Oklahoma City but ran into significant political and local opposition. That's when Congress amended the Shawnee Status Act and imposed additional hurdles on land acquisitions.

As a result, the tribe is pursuing Golden Mesa under the two-part determination provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The process, which has been utilized sparingly since 1988, requires approval from the state governor in addition to the BIA.

Still, the project has moved rather quickly in comparison to similar off-reservation developments. After just several months of review, the BIA released the environmental assessment to the public on December 2 and held a meeting in Guymon on January 5.

Written comments are being accepted until January 14 and since the BIA is proposing to issue a finding of no significant impact for the casino, it's possible a final decision could be made before the end of the Obama administration.

If not, the project would be left in the hands of Republican president-elect Donald Trump. He hasn't said anything about Indian gaming, or Indian policy at all, since winning the election last November.

Trump has nominated Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana) to lead the Interior Department, which includes the BIA. Zinke has a favorable record on Indian issues, although he hasn't dealt much with Indian gaming during his time on Capitol Hill. His confirmation hearing takes place January 17.

Read More on the Story:
Casino Appears To Be On Fast Track Near Guymon (KSCB 1/10)

An Opinion:
Editorial: Junking gaming compacts may only increase casino controversies in Oklahoma (The Oklahoman 1/11)

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