Sunday, May 2, 2004

Shawnee casino not likely, say legislators

Tribe faces many hurdles to gaming rights in Ohio

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MIDDLETOWN - A full-service casino is a long shot at best for Middletown or other Ohio communities, say state legislators.

"We're talking five or 10 years down the road - if everything falls into place," says state Sen. Scott Nein, R-Middletown.

That's a big if. Getting the gaming pieces lined up in Ohio - where voters have twice rejected statewide gambling issues - doesn't look like a good bet.

Developers representing a Shawnee Indian tribe in Oklahoma have been looking at sites along Interstate 75 in Middletown and Botkins, a Shelby County village 50 miles north of Dayton.

The tribe wants to build a 100-acre resort, casino and entertainment center that would employ more than 1,000, says Terry Casey, a Columbus-based consultant working with National Capitol I Inc.

The Shawnees, who operate one casino and a bank in Oklahoma, have not completed all three legal requirements to operate in Ohio, Casey says. The tribe has been recognized by the federal government (since 1939), and has been licensed by the National Indian Gaming Commission, he says.

But the tribe has not filed an Ohio land claim. Because the tribe has no reservation here, Casey says he's in the process of proving the tribe's historic ties to the state. Ohio is home to Shawnee Lookout Park, Shawnee State Forest, Shawnee State University, Preble Shawnee High School, and outdoor dramas about Shawnee leaders Blue Jacket and Tecumseh.

Once past that hurdle, the Shawnees could open a Class II casino only offering games already legal in Ohio - bingo, lotteries and pull-tab games of chance, Casey says.

However, Casey's waiting to see if the Legislature by the end of May approves placing a constitutional amendment before voters in November to authorize video slot machines at Ohio's seven racetracks.

Indian casinos would then be allowed to have the lucrative machines, too, Casey says. The Shawnees then could operate a Class III center, which would require a financial compact with the state.

State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, has been pushing the video slots legislation that would require that Ohio receive half the slot machine money. Seitz wants lawmakers to act, fearing that the racetracks would pursue a video slots amendment that wouldn't be so generous to the state. Ohio House officials estimate that video slot machines could bring in about $533 million a year.

Going to Ohio voters, however, hasn't been a jackpot for gambling interests. Ohio soundly trumped a pilot Lorain casino in 1990, and riverboat casinos in 1996, each time with a 62 percent no vote.

Anyone bankrolling a statewide gambling amendment also would have formidable opposition - including Gov. Bob Taft, Attorney General Jim Petro, Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, and several church and civic groups.

If - here's that word again - voters approve video slots, the Shawnee could look at other Ohio towns, Casey says. At the soonest, construction wouldn't begin for years after a tribe announcement about obtaining land.

"It's too far out to really know," Casey says. "What we want to build is going to take longer to design and build. We're a couple of years or more away."

If the video slots amendment busts this year, State Sen. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, says the multimillion-dollar gambling industry will come back to the table again - particularly with Ohio facing a $2.5-billion shortfall when the 1-cent sales tax expires in July 2005. Gambling supporters again will point out that the state loses millions spent by Ohioans at Indiana, Michigan and West Virginia casinos.

"All some people in Columbus see are the dollars," says Jordan, whose opposes the Botkins casino in his 12th district. "It will come back at some point. Eleven million people in Ohio is a huge untapped market. They see it as a gold mine."


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