Kevin Brown, then-chief of the Pamunkey Tribe, addresses the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development's New Day Now rally at the U.S. Capitol on June 16, 2015. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Former chief of Pamunkey Tribe slams gaming plan as 'recipe for disaster'

The former chief of the Pamunkey Tribe is criticizing the involvement of a non-Indian billionaire in plans for a gaming facility in Virginia.

Kevin Brown led the tribe for seven years, during its lengthy quest for federal recognition. But just as the tribe was about to see success in the summer of 2015, he was ousted after raising questions about the gaming bid.

Three years later, Brown is still concerned. He told The Richmond Times-Dispatch that bringing in billionaire gaming developer Jon Yarbrough could lead to problems for the recently recognized tribe.

"It's an industry, and you have to know what you're doing," Brown told the paper. "And if you just turn it over to a white man and say ‘Here white man run it for us and just give us money,’ I think that's a recipe for disaster."

Indianz.Com on Google Maps: Pamunkey Tribe - Homelands and New lands in Virginia

Chief Robert Gray, who replaced Brown back in 2015, defended the tribe's work with outsiders. Partnerships, management contracts and other types of agreements are common in the $31 billion Indian gaming industry.

“Starting out, sure, we understand we have to hire the experts,” Gray told the paper. “But then we can groom our own experts."

Yarbrough is best known as the founder of Video Gaming Technologies, which has supplied gaming machines to tribal casinos across the country. He financed the $3 million purchase of 600 acres outside of Richmond, the state capital, for a possible Pamunkey casino.

The tribe has not detailed its arrangement with Yarbrough. But in other situations, tribes have had to pay back developers for land acquisitions, loans and others costs associated with opening a casino.

The costs can run high. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, whose leaders completed the federal recognition process prior to the Pamunkey Tribe, has run up at least $400 million in debt to its foreign partner, according to a 2017 report from Genting Malaysia.

The Pamunkeys are going down a similar path to the Mashpees. The process involves acquiring land, submitting a land-into-trust application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, waiting for a decision from the BIA, all while negotiating with the state for a potential Class III gaming compact. The process can last a decade, or even longer, as in the case of the Mashpees.

"As long as it’s done the right way - which we believe we can work with the state and the localities to do it the right way - it’s a win-win for everyone,”Pamukey Chief Gray told The Times-Dispatch.

Read More on the Story:
PamunkeyNet, then a casino. How an Indian tribe that's been in Virginia for over 10,000 years plans to secure its future. (The Richmond Times-Dispatch May 11, 2018)

An Opinion:
Jeff E. Schapiro: Improved odds on casinos, but obstacles remain (The Richmond Times-Dispatch May 8, 2018)

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