Tribal casino meeting in Chamberlain draws few people
By Bob Mercer
CHAMBERLAIN -- A former chairman of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and a former chairman for the National Indian Gaming Commission spoke in favor of the gambling casino Tuesday night of the gambling casino the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe wants to build at the edge of Oacoma.
About 20 people, most of them from somewhere other than Oacoma, showed up for a special meeting held at a hotel conference center at Chamberlain by Lower Brule Sioux elected leaders to answer questions about the project.
The gathering came one evening after the Oacoma city council voted to oppose the project, which is planned for tribal trust land within the city limits on undeveloped property just west of the Interstate 90 interchange on the north side of the highway.
The Chamberlain city council decided to stay neutral.
Oacoma officials are concerned about costs and burdens on city services such as water and sewer in a community with a population listed at 451. Richard Rangel, who is spearheading the project for the tribe, said Tuesday that an environmental assessment is needed and will take probably one year before those kinds of questions can be fully answered.
"We are not about trying to force anything on anyone," Lower Brule Sioux tribal chairman Michael Jandreau said Tuesday in remarks opening the meeting. He said the project would help develop the central corridor's economy. "If it can't get any better, we all suffer, we all slide backwards," Jandreau said.
The casino is proposed in two phases. The first is a truck and travel center and a casino costing an estimated $34 million. Revenues from the businesses would be used to eventually pay for the $19 million second phase of a multi-story hotel tower and events center.
Phil Hogen, a former U.S. attorney for South Dakota and a former member of the federal National Indian Gaming Commission, spoke for the project. He grew up at Kadoka and practiced law for part of his career at Kennebec. "We think this can be a win-win," he said.
Because the project would be built on tribal-owned property that isn't connected to the reservation and was placed in federal trust after the 1988 passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the casino would need the approval of the U.S. secretary of the interior and ultimately the governor.
So far, Gov. Dennis Daugaard hasn't expressed an opinion on the plan. Eight of the nine tribal governments in South Dakota operate on-reservation casinos.
Tom Ranfranz, who was president for the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe for six years, talked about his tribe's experiences with its casino operations. "It really has been very positive," he said.
The tribe's original casino was built in 1990 and currently has 290 jobs, according to Ranfranz. He said 237 of those jobs are held by people of Flandreau and surrounding Moody County and about 50 percent of the employees are tribal members.
Ranfranz now serves as a liaison for the Shakopee Mdewakanton tribe that operates a large casino in suburban Minneapolis and is financing the Lower Brule project. He said the Shakopee organization has 19 projects in various stages of development and Oacoma is one of the most promising.
"The key is location, location, location," he said.
Rangel said the federal and state approval process is long. "Nobody's running from issues," he said.