Tribe plans to propose deal to build Ohio casinos Shawnee leader hopes to sway governor by first convincing legislators
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
A Shawnee Indian chief is on a mission this week to persuade state leaders to grant his tribe authority to build Las Vegas-style casinos in Ohio, including one in the Columbus area.
Charles Enyart, chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, said yesterday that the tribe hopes to build an undisclosed number of casino resorts that would pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy and help offset an estimated state budget deficit of as much as $5 billion.
"We would provide many, many jobs," Enyart, 68, said. "We’d be a good neighbor. With the state, we’d provide help with their budget problems."
Enyart said he will propose a compact with legislative leaders and Gov. Bob Taft under which the tribe would share a percentage of the casinos’ take in exchange for the right to operate Class 3 — Las Vegas-style — casinos.
"We want to work with the governor and legislature to go that route," he said.
Federal law permits Indian tribes to enter such compacts with governors. Ohio law also requires approval from the General Assembly. Currently, only Class 2 gambling, mostly bingo, is permitted in the state.
If the state declines to enter a compact with the Shawnees, the tribe could petition the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs for a claim to ancestral lands in Ohio. If successful, the land would be recognized as a sovereign nation, per- mitting the tribe to establish Class 2 gambling operations, with no requirement to pay state and local taxes or share gambling proceeds.
Taft opposes casinos in Ohio, but Enyart is hopeful the governor will change his mind if the tribe can elicit support from the legislature.
"The governor is opposed to expanding gambling in the state," said Orest Holubec, Taft’s spokesman. "He believes the social ills outweigh the potential financial gain. He also doesn’t view gambling revenue as a stable revenue source, nor do bond-rating agencies."
The tribe has hired Terry Casey, former executive director of the Franklin County GOP, and Mary Anne Sharkey, Taft’s former communications director, to help convince the governor and lawmakers that the state would benefit from casinos.
"We’re starting with the legislature during budget negotiations," Sharkey said, adding that "hundreds of millions of dollars" could be made available to the state beginning in July 2006, the second year of the upcoming biennial budget, if the casinos are approved.
The Shawnee tribe already has announced hopes of building casino resorts in Butler and Shelby counties. Enyart said the tribe expects to announce a central Ohio site for a casino resort in about a month.
Because of opposition from Mayor Michael B. Coleman and other community leaders, the tribe is scouting for a site outside of Columbus city limits, Casey said.
Holubec said the tribe has yet to request a meeting with the governor’s office. Enyart will meet today and Wednesday with legislative leaders, Sharkey said, although she declined to name them.
During an earlier visit to Columbus, Enyart pitched the casino plan to House Speaker Jon Husted, R-Dayton. Enyart said he assured Husted that lobbying efforts by the tribe would be scandal-free.
"We don’t go into any community that doesn’t want us," Enyart said. "Secondly, everything has to be aboveboard. We don’t want any problems."
Casey said a number of mayors and county commissioners in Ohio have asked about siting one of the Shawnee casino resorts in their communities.
The 666-member Oklahoma tribe operates a 660-seat bingo casino in Oklahoma near the border with Missouri.
The tribe also is the majority shareholder in a bank in Seneca, Mo., he said.
"We’re a very progressive tribe," he said. "We’re small but very much on the move."