Oklahoma tribe opening bingo parlor in southwestern N.M.

Deming, New Hampshire (AP) 1/08

The Fort Sill Apache tribe in Oklahoma is working on opening a high-stakes bingo parlor on a 30-acre site in southwestern New Mexico.

“We’re just putting a small amount of money into it – under a few million dollars,” said Jeff Houser, tribal chairman.

Tribal contractors are putting up eight portable buildings on the site off Interstate 10, 18 miles east of Deming, to house the 5,000-square-foot parlor, which is scheduled to open this spring.

“This is really a test for us. If it doesn’t work, we’ll take the trailers back to Oklahoma,” Houser said Wednesday.

The tribe would like to open a casino filled with slot machines, but Houser said that would depend on the parlor’s success. The tribe also would have to negotiate a gaming compact with New Mexico.

“We don’t have specific plans to put a full-blown casino there, but we certainly are hopeful ... that we will prosper along with our employees and customers.”

Fort Sill Apaches have ancestral ties to the project site because they are descendants of the Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apaches that once roamed southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona.

The federal government has held the 30 acres in trust for the Fort Sill Apaches since 2001, Houser said.

“What this all means is we believe our trust lands are legally available for gaming,” he said.

The tribe can operate a high-stakes bingo parlor without a New Mexico compact, Houser said.

The tribe currently has a bingo parlor in Lawton, Okla., but Houser said its growth potential is limited by the site.