Shawnee Tribe poised to win approval for off-reservation casino

Artist's rendering of the proposed Golden Mesa Casino in Guymon, Oklahoma. Image: Shawnee Tribe

The Shawnee Tribe is set to win approval of an off-reservation casino in Oklahoma in what appears to be record time.

The tribe announced the $25 million Golden Mesa Casino nearly a year ago. After just several months of review, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is proposing to approve the project, according to an official notice that was published in the Oklahoma media.

"Based on the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Shawnee Tribe Casino project dated November, 2016, it has been determined that the proposed action will not have a significant impact on the quality of the human environment, therefore, an Environmental Impact Statement is not required and a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) has been proposed for signature of the Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Indian Affairs," the notice states.

Copies of the environmental assessment and the finding of no significant impact are not yet available on the BIA's website. But the proposed action marks a record turnaround for a gaming development.

Typically, land-into-trust applications for new casinos require the preparation and completion of an environmental impact statement. The process can take years due to the complex nature of such acquisitions, as well as legal and political concerns.

The Shawnee Tribe won't have to go through that process thanks to the BIA. But that doesn't mean the casino is a go -- under the two-part determination provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the state governor must approve as well.

In Oklahoma, only the Kaw Nation has ever completed both steps of the process. It took the tribe nine years, from 2005 to 2014, to win approval from the BIA and the state.

In contrast, it took the Shawnees less than 10 months for the BIA to complete the environmental assessment for Golden Mesa. The casino site is located in Guymon, a city in the Panhandle portion of the state that's more than 400 miles from tribal headquarters.

“Let me as sure you, we stand ready to work with the communities and local governments on a shared vision to help build a stronger economy and better place in the Oklahoma Panhandle,” Chief Ron Sparkman wrote in an open letter published by The Oklahoman ahead of a public meeting on the environmental assessment. “We want to be your community partner and we will work to help citizens of the Panhandle improve their lives through thoughtful investments in the community organizations who share our commitment.”

Despite the seemingly fast action, the Shawnees have in fact been pursuing gaming for more than a decade. After securing federal recognition through an act of Congress in 2000, the tribe proposed a casino near Oklahoma City.

The project drew intense controversy and Congress went back to the drawing board in 2005 and imposed additional hurdles on the tribe. That led to the new project in Guymon.

The well-connected Chickasaw Nation is planning to manage Golden Mesa through Global Gaming Solutions, a tribal subsidiary. The Chickasaws once drew scrutiny for winning quick approval for its land-into-trust applications without stating that the properties were going to be used for gaming.

According to the BIA's notice, the assessment for Golden Mesa is subject to a 30-day review period. So it would be up to the administration of Republican president-elect Donald Trump to approve the two-part determination before sending it to the state governor.

Incidentally, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) met with Trump in November and discussed Indian issues with the incoming president, who takes office in two weeks. She concurred with the Kaw Nation's off-reservation casino.

Read More on the Story:
Shawnee tribe eyes Panhandle casino [login required] (The Oklahoman 1/6)
Controversy escalates as decision nears on casino near Guymon [alternate link] (The Oklahoman 1/6)
Environmental Meeting in Guymon on $25 million Casino (OK Energy Today 1/2)

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