Shawnee Tribe wants to build casino in downtown Oklahoma City - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

Shawnee Tribe wants to build casino in downtown Oklahoma City

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Shawnee Tribe wants to build a casino in downtown Oklahoma City or the Bricktown entertainment district, a newspaper reported Sunday.

In a copyrighted story in Sunday's editions of The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett confirmed he had a series of discussions with tribal representatives. Cornett said he opposes the idea but may not be able to stop it.

``I'm an optimistic person by nature, but I don't see anything good from a tribal casino coming to downtown Oklahoma City,'' Cornett said. ``It's not conducive to what we're trying to create. There's been a lot of public money put into that area, and we're protective of it.''

Tribal officials said they haven't bought any Oklahoma City land, nor have they discussed their intentions with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Cornett said his legal advisers have told him the city has little choice, thanks to federal legislation that created the Miami, Okla.-based tribe in 2000.

The Omnibus Indian Advancement Act of 2000, which included a provision making the Shawnee Tribe a federally recognized entity, was authored by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and former U.S. Rep. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who is now the state's other U.S. Senator.

The bill included language directing the Interior secretary to put land into federal trust for the tribe's benefit. Instead of saying the Interior secretary ``may'' place such land into trust, the provision said the secretary ``shall'' do so, as long as the property is in Oklahoma but outside another tribe's jurisdiction.

Putting land into federal trust is mandatory for a tribe to build a casino and allows a tribe to bypass zoning and other local land restrictions.

Coburn spokesman John Hart said the senator's office is aware of the situation and is researching its options.

``Clearly the intent of that law was to preserve the cultural heritage of that tribe, not to give them a license to have a casino in Oklahoma City,'' Hart said.

Greg Pitcher, chairman of the Shawnee Tribe's economic development corporation, said he thinks the law clearly allows the tribe to build in Oklahoma City.

George Skibine, the BIA's director of Indian gaming, agreed. Language requiring the Interior Department to put land into trust for the Shawnee Tribe ``does appear to be mandatory,'' Skibine said.

What's less clear is whether the tribe could forego the strict federal review process for putting land into trust specifically for a casino.

That review, overseen by the BIA, requires the consent of state and local officials, plus a determination that a casino wouldn't hurt the local community. The only exception is when the property is deemed to be restored land to a restored tribe. In that case, no such review is necessary, Skibine said.

``We will be exploring that with the BIA and its gaming office,'' said attorney Margaret Swimmer, who represents the tribe.

Pitcher stressed that the tribe is in an exploratory phase.

``This may not come to fruition, and even if it does, I think it would be many, many years'' before a casino is built, he said.
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