Cherokee County questions Oklahoma Quapaw casino site

Columbus, Kansas (AP) 10-07

Cherokee County officials have called in federal help in its growing concerns with an Indian-owned casino being built in nearby Oklahoma.

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., sent a letter during late October to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, asking questions about the status of property on which the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma is building its Downstream Casino Resort.

Penn National Gaming has applied to the Kansas Lottery Commission for a contract to build a state-owned casino in Cherokee County and supporters worry the Indian casino will draw away players.

Roberts’ letter, sent to assistant bureau secretary Carl Artman, said he was writing on behalf of the Cherokee County Commission with questions about the casino.

A spokesman for the tribe said the county should have asked tribal officials the questions first.

In his letter, Roberts referred to a letter sent to Artman recently from David Cooper, an attorney also working on behalf of Cherokee County.

Cooper noted in his letter that the Joplin Globe had reported that the tribe owns 85 acres in Oklahoma, 120 acres in Kansas and 30 acres in Missouri and that tribal officials had said the casino’s parking lot would be built on the Cherokee County property.

Among the questions Cooper asked Artman was whether the Cherokee County land had been placed into trust by the U.S. Interior Department and if the tribe had said what it intended to do with the land at that point.

He also asked if the property was following federal guidelines for casinos on Indian lands and whether the tribe had provided information to the National Indian Gaming Commission proving the tribal gaming would be conducted on Indian land.

The Quapaw Tribe has begun construction on the $200 million resort near Interstate 44 in Ottawa County near the Kansas state line. The hotel and casino is expected to open next July.

Penn National is planning a $295 million Hollywood Casino-Cherokee County at the same Interstate 44 exit as the tribe’s casino.

Tribal spokesman Sean Harrison said he was puzzled by the Cherokee County officials’ behavior.

“They could just call up (tribal business chairman) John Berrey and ask him these questions,” Harrison said. “He hasn’t heard from them.”

Berrey has said the tribe is following all laws and regulations in building the casino, but wouldn’t provide specifics when asked about Cooper’s questions. He did say he felt the county is harassing the tribe.

Richard Klemp, vice president of government relations for Penn National, said the company wasn’t trying to interfere with the tribe’s casino.

“We think they’re legitimate questions,” Klemp said. “We’re just focused on our project, a first-class destination casino and hotel. We can’t control what the Quapaw Tribe does.”