Gambling opponents, tribes join in opposition
Sunday, May 16th 2004, 9:23 AM CDT
STROUD, Okla. (AP) _ Gaming expansion opponents and tribal officials may have a common interest: keeping gaming out of the state's horse racing tracks.
Rep. Forrest Claunch has joined with several tribes to defeat a proposal that would let three horse racing tracks offer casino-style games while expanding the type of games allowed at American Indian casinos.
``Some might call this an unholy alliance,'' said Claunch, R-Midwest City. ``I don't think either one of us is unholy because we oppose this compact.''
Claunch was the main speaker at a gathering of tribes Friday that want to defeat the Nov. 2 scheduled vote on the issue.
Some fear larger tribes like the Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee nations will benefit and small tribes will lose out.
Nine tribes were represented at the Sac and Fox Nation's community building. The Sac and Fox don't have a casino but are developing one on Interstate 40 near Shawnee.
Gov. Brad Henry pitched the compact as a way to save the horse racing industry while pouring millions into education. The state estimates the compact would produce $71 million in its first year.
Currently in Oklahoma, tribal casinos can offer Class II electronic games. Most look like Class III, Las Vegas-style slot machines and video poker, but are based on bingo.
Under Henry's plan, tribes that agree to share proceeds with the state could offer a hybrid between Class II and Class III. They also could offer tournament-style card games.
Henry had signed the gaming bill, only to have the House and Senate repeal it this week. A new bill calls for a statewide vote on the issue.
Sac and Fox Chief Kay Rhoads said the compact might be more palatable if money collected from tribes were split evenly between state, county and municipal governments, with each collecting 2 percent of profits.
``If all that money goes into the state coffers, what happens then?'' Rhoads asked. ``Will gaming dollars really come back to the local level?''
Sac and Fox attorney Mike McBride said the tribe objects to using a universal formula to determine how much of the tribe's money goes to the state.
McBride said small tribes fear that they will get little in return for their state payments.
Tribes that agree to the compact could become subject to more state audits and inspections and could lose sovereignty, McBride said.
Nathan Tselee, vice chairman of the Apache Tribe, asked why tribes should care what happens to Oklahoma's horse racing tracks.
``I could care less,'' he said. ``I don't own 'em.''
Tselee said he resents that state politicians ``don't look at us as Indian people until they need something.''