Three tribal casinos threatened with closure

Saturday, December 25th 2004, 4:26 pm
By: News On 6

CONCHO, Okla. (AP) _ A dispute over how some tribal casino profits are spent threatens to close three Cheyenne and Arapaho casinos.

The casinos are being scrutinized by the National Indian Gaming Commission and the FBI, which have conducted investigations since at least April.

In a Dec. 10 letter, gaming commission Chairman Phil Hogen said he had learned that tribal leaders aren't complying with a mandatory, federally approved spending plan. Failure to comply can result in fines or, in severe cases, closure of a casino.

The casinos involved are the Lucky Star casinos at Concho and Clinton, plus a smaller casino at Watonga called Feather Warrior that opened last year.

The Lucky Star casinos generated an estimated $10 million in profits last year for the two tribes.

Tribal members have approved an allocation plan for gaming money. The U.S. Interior Department ratified the plan in August.

It states casino profits must be spent this way: 30 percent for economic development; 20 percent in direct annual payments to registered tribal voters; 16 percent for elder care; 10 percent each for education, emergency assistance and culture and heritage; and 4 percent for vehicle maintenance.

The spending plan was meant to replace a rather disorganized welfare system in which gaming revenues were divided equally among eight elected representatives. Tribal members approach their representative, describe their financial plight and ask for money.

Critics complain that the status quo assures no accountability and has created a feudal system, with large amounts of money doled out to favored constituents. Such a spending method violates the federal law that allows Indian gaming, according to Hogen's letter.

Some of the tribes' eight elected business committee representatives have objected to the allocation plan and have refused to follow it.