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$34 million casino proposed at Oacoma

OACOMA -- A developer presented a proposed $34 million casino project to the Oacoma area Tuesday evening. Richard Rangel, of RM Rangel Inc., Rapid City, spoke to a crowd of about 70 at the Oacoma Community Center. He would be the construction manager of the project, which is being pursued by the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. The casino would be located on land the tribe controls off the reservation and just west of Oacoma, along the north side of Interstate 90.

"We know a lot of people don't have a clear picture of what the project is, so we're taking the opportunity to present what the project components are and receive questions," Rangel said. He and other officials repeatedly stated the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe is merely proposing the casino at this point. Nothing is set in stone, they said.

The project is envisioned in two phases -- a casino and travel plaza for phase one and an events center, hotel and water park for phase two. The focus now is phase one, which is estimated to cost $34 million. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community at Prior Lake, Minn., has agreed to loan the money for phase one, Rangel said.

"This will be an entirely privately funded project," he added. Rangel said phase two of the project would likely be funded through money made at the casino.

Should the project proceed, the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe will move its gaming operations solely to the casino in Oacoma. Currently, the tribe owns and operates the Golden Buffalo Casino on the reservation.

"This is not an expansion of gaming," Rangel said. "This is a relocation."

The new casino would have 500 slots, eight blackjack tables, four poker tables, a 120-seat buffet, a snack bar for 15 to 20 people, a lounge or sports bar with a dance floor for 50 people, an entertainment floor, and seating for 300 people for catered events, among other features, according to Ron Valentine, of Consolidated Casino Systems.

He said the casino would employ 241 people with total wages in excess of $7 million.

"It would generate 300,000 visitors on an annual basis," Valentine said. "The construction will generate $21 million to the local economy and $8.4 million in construction wages. ... There will be a ripple effect through the community."

Tuesday's meeting was the final step for the tribe to send an application for approval to the U.S. secretary of the interior.

"When the secretary of the interior makes a determination, then it is sent on to the governor of the state," Rangel said. "At that time, then the governor makes a determination. So we have some hurdles to go through yet."

Bruce Berg, of Oacoma, asked whether the casino would be an equal opportunity employer or favor American Indians for employment.

Valentine said the casino would likely provide employment preference for Indians, but other positions would be open for people with specialized skills. The Royal River Casino at Flandreau, he said, employs 291 people and 134 are non-Indian.

Other area residents were concerned about the impact on Oacoma's infrastructure and economy. Rangel said there will be future public meetings and periods to address those concerns.

Others had concerns about the construction and the tribe hiring out-of-town firms. Rangel gave examples of other construction projects by the tribe, when it hired firms such as Muth Electric, from Mitchell.

The tribe has been in contact with Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who said the tribe is on the right track, according to Rangel, but has otherwise expressed only "strong neutrality."

"I'm not sure the motivation behind telling us we're on the right track, other than to encourage us to stay on the right track," Rangel said.

The Daily Republic contacted Tony Venhuizen, Gov. Daugaard's director of policy and communications, prior to Tuesday's meeting.

"There is a very well-specified process that is spelled out in federal regulations," Daugaard said in an email. "The last step of that process is for the governor to weigh in, and he is required to consider all of the information that is collected through the process. Because that process has not taken place, he is not weighing in."

Should the secretary of the interior and governor approve the project, the tribe would need to renegotiate a gaming compact with the National Indian Gaming Commission, Rangel said.

Some Lower Brule Sioux tribal members attended the meeting in protest of the casino and accused tribal authorities of not having a valid gaming license. Outside the meeting, signs called for impeachment of Tribal Chairman Michael Jandreau and the Tribal Council.

Jandreau said he hopes the casino can further a good relationship between the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and the surrounding area, including Oacoma and Chamberlain and the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation. The border of the Lower Brule Reservation is about 10 miles north of Oacoma.

"This is an opportunity for the tribe and the community affected," he said. "We want to understand the areas of concern you have so we can make an effort to address them."