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This is a drawing of what a proposed Lower Brule Sioux Tribe casino just west of Oacoma would look like. (Image courtesy of Great Horse Group)

LBST casino application to enter bureaucracy

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The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

OACOMA -- A hilly, unremarkable-looking patch of prairie just off Old Highway 16 on the west edge of Oacoma is a point of contention in the small community.

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The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and other officials are hopeful an application to the U.S. secretary of the interior for permission to use 12 acres of the 91-acre parcel for gaming purposes will be approved.

"I'm not confident it'll move smoothly from here on," said Michael Jandreau, tribal chairman.

The tribe has owned the land, located about 10 miles south of the Lower Brule Reservation border, since 1990.

Jandreau referenced an informational meeting held in early February to alert the town to the tribe's intentions. While some seemed supportive of the concept of a large-scale casino and travel plaza, he said some were not and other tribal members were there to protest.

Despite some opposition, the tribe, developers RM Rangel Inc., of Rapid City, and architects Great Horse Group, of Minneapolis, plan to move forward with the application process.

Phase one of the casino project is projected to cost $34 million and would be financially backed by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community of Prior Lake, Minn. A potential second phase could include a hotel and waterpark.

"The application is a very involved task," Richard Rangel, president of RM Rangel Inc., said recently, adding he hopes to have the application submitted this month. "Essentially the merits being submitted are both for the local economy and the tribe itself, which is probably what's going to carry it. We are pretty confident, but nothing is guaranteed."

The tribe purchased the 91 acres of land on the west edge of Oacoma in 1990 for $77,834.94, according to the deed filed with the Lyman County Register of Deeds Office. The land was put into trust with the federal government in 2011. The tribe paid all taxes on the land through 2011, according to the Lyman County Treasurer's Office. The land has been off the tax rolls for the county since 2012 because of its status as tribal trust land.

Rangel said the tribe started the process of placing the land in trust when the tribe purchased the land, but it was "not predicated on gambling or gaming."

"At that point, it was an economic development opportunity," Jandreau said. "It allowed us to have land in a very attractive area along the interstate."

"The issue of putting a casino on the property came up in the last three years," Rangel said.

Should the casino be approved and built, it would stand on the 12 acres of the tribe's property that lies within Oacoma city limits. That area is along Old Highway 16 just west of the Quality Inn in Oacoma. The other 79 acres stretches to the north, outside of city limits.

Should the tribe's application be approved and construction move forward, the tribe and the state would negotiate a new gaming compact, because the tribe already operates the Golden Buffalo Casino on the Lower Brule reservation. If the new casino were built, the existing Golden Buffalo Casino would be closed.

Rangel is hopeful the new casino will be under construction "or at least well into design about this time next year."

Part of the renegotiated compact would include security and law enforcement.

Larry Eliason, executive secretary of the South Dakota State Gaming Commission, said state, federal and tribal laws would apply on the property, but jurisdiction can be negotiated in the compact.

Lower Brule is the first tribe in South Dakota to go through the approval process seeking to place a casino on non-contiguous tribal land, according to the state attorney general's office.

Also, recently a non-Indian casino was built just east of Sioux Falls in Iowa and an Indian casino expanded its facility just across the border in Niobrara, Neb., which could cause increased competition for casinos in South Dakota.

Rangel said he personally doesn't think those casinos will increase competition enough to allow for more expansion of Indian casinos off reservations in South Dakota, other than Lower Brule's casino. Eliason said he could not speculate on the issue.

Few residents or businesspeople in Oacoma or Chamberlain were willing to comment on the proposed casino recently when The Daily Republic visited both cities. Some said it would benefit the area by creating jobs and drawing more visitors. Some said those visitors would likely filter into other businesses and tour the area while visiting the casino.

Others said the casino would be a detriment and bring more problems than it would be worth, including more crime and issues with the capacity in Oacoma's wastewater system.

The tribe still has a long way to go in the application process. Once the paperwork is submitted to the U.S. Department of the Interior for permission to use the 12 acres for gaming, either the secretary of the interior or a designee will consult with area tribes and local governments within 25 miles of the site.

The secretary then has to give local governments and tribes 60 days to comment on the issue, and they can ask for a 30-day extension.

After those time periods are over, the secretary of the interior will determine whether gaming on the site would be in the best interests of the tribe that made the petition and not be detrimental to other tribes and local governments, Eliason said.

"Assuming the secretary decides in favor of the tribe's request, then he sends the entire file to the governor of the state and the governor has one year in which he can either concur, not concur or simply not reply," Eliason said. "At the request of the governor or the tribe, that one-year period can be extended an additional 180 days."

Should the governor not concur or not reply, the process ends, he added.

But if the governor approves the application, the state and tribe would renegotiate the gaming compact, which would then have to be approved by the secretary of interior before gaming could commence, Eliason said.

The governor's office declined to comment on the proposal.

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