County possible site for casino
Chief of Delaware Tribe to talk with commissioners next week
Several months after unveiling plans for a casino near Lawrence, an Oklahoma Indian tribe has turned its attention to Leavenworth County.
Last summer, the Delaware Tribe of Indians, which is based in Bartlesville, Okla., said it was negotiating to purchase about 80 acres of farmland near the Lawrence Municipal Airport. The tribe had hoped to construct a $60 million project, including a casino, a hotel, convention center and museum.
However, petitions circulated against the casino and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce board of directors came out against it.
Now, the tribe is considering Leavenworth County as a casino site.
Dee Ketchum, chief of the Delaware Tribe, was scheduled on Monday morning to talk with Leavenworth County commissioners. That discussion was postponed until 1:30 p.m. next Tuesday because of Monday's storm.
County commissioners said they have few details about what Ketchum might propose.
But all three commissioners have questions.
"There are several things I'd want to talk about before I saw that happen," said Don Navinsky, county commission chairman. "Economic development what does this do to help us or hinder us?
"What happens to counties when something like this happens? Where do people spend their money then? What tax base do you have? How does that affect other businesses?"
Navinsky and his fellow commissioners said they are not aware of any specific sites the Delaware Tribe is considering.
Joe Daniels said he understands Ketchum's desire to be close to the Kansas Speedway, scheduled to open in a few months.
"I'm just going to try to see what he's got to offer and what the cost-benefit is to the county," Daniels said. "I don't know what he'll provide, but we'll just have to wait and see what he comes up with."
Commissioner Bob Adams said he, too, was eager for more information.
"Naturally, it has to be win-win for Leavenworth County or I'm not interested," Adams said.
Ketchum, who played basketball for the University of Kansas about 40 years ago, said his 10,500-member tribe has said he wanted the Delawares to be in business in the tribe's one-time home.
Before being forced to move to Oklahoma, the tribe lived from 1830 to 1867 on a 2 million-acre reservation in northeast Kansas that included Leavenworth County, according to a letter Ketchum wrote to Leavenworth County Commissioners.
Federal law allows tribes to operate gaming operations on Indian lands, and federal officials encourage tribes, such as the Delawares, to focus on their previous reservation land.
To build a casino, the tribe must acquire land and receive approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior for the land's use as a gaming center. Then the governor of Kansas could negotiate a compact for a casino in Kansas, and that agreement would require the approval of the Kansas Legislature.
John Zoellner, Leavenworth County planning director, said he's not sure the Delaware tribe must obtain approval from the county.
"It would be nice if they would work with us and pick a site that should be commercial," Zoellner said.
Clearly, he said, the prime locations are along Kansas Highway 7 or U.S. Highway 24-40.
"I can't imagine putting it anywhere else," Zoellner said. "They could, but it would not be a very good idea."
A month ago, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's board of directors voted unanimously to oppose the casino, hotel, convention center and museum. At that time, the chamber president said his members were concerned that a casino would lead to increases in embezzlement, bankruptcies, missed work and other problems from a damaged community image to negative influences on youths, students and college athletics.
Ketchum had said that studies show that crime often decreases in areas where a casino opens. He said the majority of people who regularly participate in Indian gaming are older than 55 with disposable income. He also cited the benefits of employing from 800 to 1,400 people, both American Indians and others.
Profits from the operation would be used for education programs for the Delaware tribe's members, Ketchum said.