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What Are The Odds? Will Governor Approve Native American Casino?

FILE: Slot Machine, Gambling

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe is seeking federal permission to build a new casino near the Missouri River town of Oacama along Interstate 90. The tribe filed a request with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has the authority to approve the plan. If given, then Governor Daugaard will have to give his permission for the project to move forward.

By South Dakota standards, the plan is ambitious. The project cost is estimated at $34 million. The casino and travel plaza would be constructed first, then a hotel, water park, and event center. The plan includes the closure of the tribe’s existing casino which is far off the beaten path.

At this time, the governor is not taking a position. A staff member from the governor’s office stated he will review the “information which has been compiled” if and when the interior secretary gives the go-ahead from the federal perspective. No time lines for the review process have been provided.

This proposal is unique for a number of reasons. It is on land not within the contiguous boundary of the reservation, although federal law does allow for that possibility.

It is the first proposal from any tribe to create a new facility, since the governor has taken office. The relationship between the state and tribes has been strained in the past as state officials have been reluctant to allow more machines at Native American casinos. The state does not receive any revenue from Indian gaming. A sore point for many, but not the tribes.

If the federal government approves Lower Sioux Brules request of the site along I-90 in central South Dakota, the governor will be in an interesting situation. All governors talk about improving relationships with the tribes. All governors have talked about economic development which benefits all of us, including Native Americans.

On the other side are gaming interests not operated by tribes. The biggest area is Deadwood. However, there are hundreds of small locally owned “casinos” which feature video lottery only. Both of those groups pay taxes and are required to share the proceeds of their take with the state. How will they feel about a centrally located, large, tribally-run, establishment which offers the same games which are played in Deadwood?

Also there are many people here who don’t like any type of gaming, except bingo at their local church. With the tribe’s request for this facility, the door is open for anti-gambling interests to weigh in on this proposal and the larger question of the state’s reliance on other people’s loses to fund many state programs.

This can be political quicksand for any elected official. No matter the decision, a large number of potential voters will be upset, and upset voters remember.

Want to place a wager? How will the governor play this “game?”

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