Kansas, Arkansas Battles Quapaws

The state of Kansas and Arkansas are fighting the Quapaw tribe. Kansas requested a preliminary injunction against the tribe to stop expansion at its Downstream Casino in Oklahoma onto the adjacent parking lot, located in Kansas. In Arkansas, tribal Chairman John Berrey (l.) says it’s all about “history” not casinos.

Attorneys for the state of Kansas and Cherokee County recently filed a request for a preliminary injunction against the Oklahoma-based Quapaw tribe in U.S. District Court in Topeka. The state wants to block the tribe from expanding its Downstream Casino onto its adjacent parking lot located across the state line in Kansas, claiming that would affect its current efforts to build its own state-run casino in the area. Kansas officials said heavy construction equipment already has been moved onto the parking lot. But Quapaw Chairman John Berrey said, “This whole injunction thing is a farce. There is no construction taking place and so they are chasing ghosts.” Berrey said the tribe simply wants to protect its gaming rights and provide jobs. The tribe is planning a million addition offering table games, such as roulette, which are illegal in Oklahoma.

The lawsuit contends the Quapaw tribe misled state and federal officials in with assurances the land would not be used for gaming purposes. However, tribal officials said they did not plan to change the use of the land until the Kansas legislature announced plans for a state-owned casino in its southeast gaming zone that would directly compete with the Downstream. The Kansas Lottery Commission is moving forward with that casino, reviewing contracts with three developers. A state-owned facility would provide a percentage of lottery revenues to the state and counties. But, according to the court filing, the Quapaw’s direct casino competition would decrease the value of the state’s gaming facility in that zone, and would provide no revenue to the state or county, although the county would be obligated to support it through emergency services and road maintenance with no financial contribution for those services, the state argued. The tribe’s casino also would impact the size of the state project and consequently affect the amount of revenues provided to the state and county.

Last month, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt sued the tribe, challenging a decision by the National Indian Gaming Commission last year authorizing casino games on 124 acres in Cherokee County, which includes the parking lot area. The tribe bought the land in 2006 and the federal government put it trust in 2012. Last November the NIGC declared that the site could be treated as reservation land and used for casino gambling under federal law. Schmidt’s lawsuit stated the commission acted arbitrarily and exceeded its legal authority, and that federal law allows Kansas Governor Sam Brownback a veto the tribe’s expansion plans.

Berrey responded as a sovereign nation the Quapaw do not have to ask Brownback for permission, adding Brownback should “mind his own business. All of a sudden because Brownback is building a casino in my backyard, he decided to attack me,” Berrey said.

Because of the state’s lawsuit, the Quapaw tribe stated last month that it would not partner with Wichita billionaire Phil Ruffin, owner of Treasure Island Casino in Las Vegas, in a proposed Camptown Casino & Resort north of Pittsburg at Ruffin’s former Camptown Greyhound Park. The Kansas Lottery Commission recently asked Ruffin’s representatives for further financial disclosures. The representatives said Ruffin’s budget lists $25 million of his $78.5 million investment as the value of the existing, vacant dog track and land. Crawford County values the property at $450,000. Commission spokeswoman Sally Lunsford acknowledged commissioners had questions about several other items in Ruffin’s plan and granted a delay for clarifications. Said Ruffin, “Right now the building is worth what it’s worth, but if it were a casino it would be worth far more. We’ll get an appraiser out there next week and get them what they asked for.”

The Camptown Casino will offer 750 slot machines and 20 table games. The plan also calls for a 62-room hotel, two restaurants and a bar.

Castle Rock Casino Resort, led by Wichita brothers Rodney and Brandon Steven plus 18 other investors, would be built on U.S. 400 in Crawford County, less than a mile from the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri borders. The investors pledged $50 million in cash and $90 million in long-term debt, according to Brandon Steven. The casino would offer 1,400 slot machines, 35 table games and 16 poker tables. The development also would have a 200-room hotel, meeting rooms and several restaurants and bars.

The third competitor, the $70.2 million Kansas Crossing Casino and Hotel, would be located at the junction of U.S. 400 and 69, just south of Pittsburg near the Missouri border. Investors include a Topeka-based development group, many who were involved in earlier winning bids to develop the state-owned Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane and Boot Hill Casino & Resort in Dodge City. According to documents, the group will supply $25.9 million in equity and up to $44.3 million in long-term debt. The casino would feature 625 slot machines and 16 table games. Also on-site would be a 120-room hotel, 400-seat event center, restaurant and bar and parking.

Kansas Crossing the only development that has generated local opposition from residents who said they are concerned about traffic, crime and other problems.

Each developer must meet a minimum financial investment of $50 million plus demonstrate the experience and management capabilities to operate a casino. After review by the Lottery Commission, finalists will be checked out by the Kansas Lottery Gaming Facility Review Board, which will hold public hearings this week in Pittsburg. The board will have 60 days to determine the winner.

Meanwhile, locals in Pulaski County, Arkansas suspect the Quapaws want to build a casino on 160 acres it owns in near the port of Little Rock. The tribe has applied to the U.S. Department of Interior to have the land taken into trust. While tribal leaders haven’t definitively said a casino will not happen, they said they do not have plans for one. Currently most of the Pulaski County acreage is leased to a soybean farmer.

Chairman John Berrey said the focus is on the land’s history. “We really believe it’s our responsibility to protect it,” Berrey said. He added the land only needs to be considered a “last recognized reservation” to be placed in trust. The acreage holds graves of Quapaws from more than 100 years ago, when the tribe still inhabited Arkansas before being forced to move to northeast Oklahoma.

“Last recognized reservation” means the land was acquired in a recognized treaty and the tribe exercises its own authority on the land and tribal members are present on it. The land also must be in a state with no present-day reservation for that tribe as of October 17, 1988.

Currently under Arkansas law, Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis are the state’s only legal gambling operations.

Little Rock and Pulaski County officials are aware of the Quapaw tribe’s ongoing legal battle in Kansas, where it wants to expand its Downstream Casino in Oklahoma onto the adjacent parking lot, just over the Kansas state line, on 124 acres it owns in Kansas. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Quapaw officials broke their promise that the Kansas land, which was taken into federal trust in 2012, would not be used for a casino. Berrey said the tribe considered its Kansas property to be gaming land and did not deceive government officials.

Meanwhile, Little Rock leaders are concerned that the city and the Little Rock Port Authority do not have binding agreements about what the tribe would do with the land, if it eventually is taken into trust. At-Large City Director Dean Kumpuris said, “It’s that dangling fear of the future, what might happen.” City Director Lance Hines told Berrey, “I think that’s our biggest concern. What’s to stop you from changing your mind?”

Berrey has offered memorandums of understanding to Little Rock and to the Little Rock Port Authority that would be binding agreements on issues like how the Port Authority should handle any Indian remains it might uncover. When asked whether the tribe intended to include provisions in those agreements that would subject the land to state laws governing gambling, Berrey said, “I don’t think so. We’re not talking about that. It’s about the cultural stuff.” He added, “We don’t want to bind ourselves in the future, 20 years from now, based on something signed 20 years ago.”

For now, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is moving forward with the Quapaw’s land-trust application. The BIA has requested information from Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde and County Attorney Amanda Mitchell on the financial impact of removing the land from local tax rolls. They have until May 13 to respond. Hyde said the county’s stance on gambling on the land would depend on input from the land’s “neighbors,” including the Port Authority and College Station. Governor Asa Hutchinson also has been asked by the BIA to provide information.

The board of the Little Rock Port Authority said it will send a letter to the BIA on May 4 expressing its concern that the property could be developed into something that does not fit into the port’s long-term growth plans. Port Authority Executive Director Bryan Day said an inappropriate use could be a casino, a water park or a fast-food restaurant. Little Rock Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Jay Chesshir added the tribe’s activities in Kansas “give rise to questions. Hopefully, the Bureau of Indian Affairs will take any concerns that we bring forward into consideration.”