Northern Arapaho Near License Deal for Class III Casino in Wyoming

RIVERTON, Wyo. (AP) -- A Northern Arapaho Tribe representative told a legislative committee that they believe an agreement is near with the Interior Department on issuing a high-stakes gambling license for a new tribal casino now under construction.

David T. Staddon, general manager of 789 Bingo and Casino, last week also showed members of the Select Committee on Tribal Relations the artist's rendering of the new casino, along with floor plans.

Mark Howell, consultant to the Northern Arapaho Tribe, which is building the new casino, said he believes agreement is near with the Secretary of the Interior on the issuance of the federal permission for gambling at the site.

Arapaho tribal leaders, including Business Council Chairman Burton Hutchison, said the Arapahos are using their own resources to construct the casino, which they hope will be issued a Class III gambling permit from Interior. Class III gambling includes casino-type games.

Currently, the tribe provides Class II gambling, including bingo, pull tabs, punch cards and similar games.

Howell said draft documents are being exchanged between the tribe and Interior with what he hoped would be the definitive meeting planned for Nov. 23.

He said if the Arapaho gets Class III games, they would be run in cooperation with charities.

Howell said two cases over the type of gambling the tribe can offer are under appeal in the court system.

Howell said the tribe's current gaming operation has had its annual profit rise from a beginning $23,000 to around $2 million net, with a target of $3 million annual net profit.

The new facility, designed by a professional casino architect, will have 33,000 square feet with a 15,000 gaming floor and around 400 gaming machines. It will also have a bingo parlor, eating facilities, offices and back room space, with ample parking.

The facilities will be run by the Northern Arapaho Gaming Agency, a three-member commission chaired by Melanie Duran, who helped conduct the tour for legislators.

Staddon explained the strict operational rules, security features and operation procedures. He praised the cooperation shown by the City of Riverton which is offering inspection services to assure all construction is up to building codes.

Recognizing that expanded gambling will have some negative social impacts, the tribe promises assistance in dealing with addicted gamblers, including founding a Gamblers Anonymous program.

Initially, the Arapahos plan to self-manage the casino, but down the road might contract management with a professional group.

Current employment at the 789 casino is 70 people with employment at the new casino tagged at 210, a mixture of tribal and non-tribal people.

State Rep. Jim Allen, R-Lander, asked how profits from the casino would be distributed.

Tribal spokesmen said distribution would be under direction of the Arapaho business and general councils.

The target opening date for the new casino is the summer of 2005. Only footings have been poured thus far.

Tribal Relations members asked if the state has any role in the casino.

"No,'' answered Howell.

A judge ruled the state was not negotiating in good faith and accepted the tribal plan as the last, best offer, sending the casino decision on to Interior Secretary Gail Norton.