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Special Report: Downstream's Gamble and the potential for gaming - KOAM TV 7

Special Report: Downstream's Gamble and the potential for gaming in Southeast Kansas

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Many attempts have failed in the last 5 years for casino's and racetracks to make a comeback to Southeast Kansas. But now, there's a new push from local tribes that is one step closer to making it a reality.

Cherokee county Kansas currently has a population of just over 21,000. Living within that population are members of the Quapaw tribe.

"We have a lot of employees that live in Kansas. We have a lot of kids from our tribe that go to school in Kansas. And we have teachers that are actual tribal members in Kansas. So we think anything we can do to help out Cherokee County, which to us, is our partner...is a benefit to everyone." says Chairman John Berrey of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma.

Back in September, the tribe sent a request to Kansas Governor, Sam Brownback, to expand its casino operations across the state lines, into Cherokee County. According to Galena City attorney Kevin Cure, before any expansion takes place, the tribe must be approved for a gaming compact. The compact is an agreement with the state and tribe's to allow gaming to take place on tribal reservation property that sits within the state.

"The compact would define the rights of the parties. And if it gets approved and is legal, it would state what revenues are to be paid to the state and perhaps to the local governments,

Assuming that's something the tribe is looking to do." cure says.

Currently, 4 tribes have gaming compacts with the state of Kansas that own and operate casinos - The Kickapoo tribe, the Prarie brand Potawatomi Nation, the Sac and Fox nation and the Iowa tribe. But before the Quawpaw Tribes' compact is approved the by government, they need the support of the county commission and city governments.

"We have good friends in Cherokee county. We love the people of Galena and Baxter and Riverton and Loll, and we just hope we have continued great relations with them." Chairman Berrey says.

The land that the Quapaw tribe seeks to expand on is the parking lot of Downstream Casino that sits in Cherokee County. Back in 2008 Penn National gaming planned to build a state-run casino on this site. That land now belongs to the tribe.

"Penn National had about 200 acres that they would have built the casino upon. But when they settled their lawsuit, just before that, they agreed to convey it to the tribe." Cure says.

"The land that's held in trust is what makes it Indian land, or reservation land. It's how the secretary of interior holds title to property to the benefit of the tribe. That allows us to do the things we're able to do under the law, all kinds of jurisdictional issues - whether its law enforcement, fire protection, environmental gaming, wildlife management, agriculture...it means a lot of things. It's status of the land that the tribe prefers our property to be in." Berrey says.

The compact also opens the doors to something different for the state...Class 3 gaming, which includes dice games, and roulettes. Something that Oklahoma law prohibits in tribal owned casinos.

"Class 3 is more like blackjack, different table games, and slot machines or gaming machines that mimic or are the same as Las Vegas. In the machines case, its how the numbers are generated for the actual panel that you see and it's how the winnings are figured out." Berrey explains.

The tribe's letter is currently being reviewed under the state, which is something that could take some time.

"All it is - is about economic development and improving the communities around us and providing jobs...purchasing products...and creating economy. That's why I think it's good to have a tribe involved in the area and the business that we do because our money stays here." Berrey says.

"I'm not supportive of this. The governor's office is not supportive of this, and it's mainly because we have all the problems that come in southeast Kansas. Anyone that wants to gamble in Southeast Kansas can travel to Ottawa county Oklahoma  and have a dozen casinos they can go to. So the Indians expanding into Kansas could jeopardize us having our own facility." says Kansas Senator, Jacob LaTurner (R), District 13.

"If the tribe decides to include a provision for paying Cherokee County or any other local governments in their compacts that satisfies the state, they can make some revenue there. But the legislation for a state operated or supervised casino would include provisions for payments to local governments." Cure explains.

Tribal owned casino's do not fall under the Kansas Expanded Lottery Act, which allows more revenue from casinos to be given back to local counties.

"I feel like it's my responsibility to do what my constituents asked and so there will be an attempt this year to try to fix the gaming situation to make it viable for a company to come in." LaTurner says.

For Cherokee county, they are already taking the steps to make that happen without the backing of Downstream.

"The economic development committee of Cherokee county has hired a lobbyist, and so has the city of Galena. Both with the goal of reducing threshold for casinos to be built as far as its overall price. And we believe that allows us many more opportunities to attract a casino to operate under the Kansas Expanded lottery act. And we also believe that would generate a lot of local jobs for this economy that can't be sent overseas because it's a service oriented industry." Cure says.

There's been no word on when that study by the lobbyists will be complete...but city officials tell us, they are excited for the end result, and are ready to take the next step forward to bringing gaming back into the county.
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