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Comments sought for proposed casino near Chamberlain

OACOMA -- The clock is running on whether South Dakota gets its first tribal casino outside the established boundary of a reservation. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs this week began requesting comments about the proposal by the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe for a casino at Oacoma along Interstate 90.

Tim LaPointe, acting regional director in the BIA's Great Plains office in Aberdeen, sent letters requesting comments from Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Brandon Sazue Sr. and South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Letters also went to elected commissioners from eight counties -- Lyman, Hughes, Buffalo, Brule, Tripp, Gregory, Charles Mix and Jerauld -- and elected officials from the municipalities of Chamberlain, Oacoma, Pukwana, Kennebec, Kimball and Reliance.

They have 60 days to respond.

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe already operates the Golden Buffalo Casino at Lower Brule. The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe already operates the Golden Buffalo Casino at Lower Brule. It was one of the first Indian casinos to open in South Dakota more than 20 years ago. It is 15 miles north of Interstate 90.

Under the new plan, the Golden Buffalo would close and the tribe's new casino would be just off the Oacoma exit on the north side of I-90.

The Crow Creek Sioux Tribe operates its Lode Star Casino at Crow Creek along S.D. 34, which is traveled much less. The two reservations are neighbors, with Crow Creek on the north side of the Missouri River and Lower Brule on the south side.

The new Lower Brule casino would be on tribal-owned land approximately five miles outside the Lower Brule reservation's southern boundary.

The tribe sought that the land be placed into federal trust in 1990. In 2005, a federal appeals court affirmed that decision by the Department of Interior.

Because the land is outside the reservation and was placed in trust after Oct. 17, 1988, the date when the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act became law, the governor gets the final decision.

The tribe asserted several times in its application and related documents during the 1990s it would use the site for historic tourism purposes and didn't plan a gambling casino there. The tribe also stated, however, it would follow federal Indian gaming laws if it did pursue a casino. The federal records include a letter from then-Gov. Bill Janklow in which he wrote that he was assured the site wouldn't be used for a casino. Based on that assurance, Janklow supported placing the land in federal trust. The proposed location for the casino is just west of the Interstate 90 bridge that crosses the Missouri River. Chamberlain is on the opposite side of the river there.

So far, Gov. Daugaard hasn't commented publicly about the proposal. He could have the ultimate say on what happens.

Under federal law, the U.S. Department of Interior will make a two-part determination based in part on the information received from governments within a 25-mile radius of the planned site.

One part of the determination is whether the gaming establishment would be in the best interest of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and its members.

The second part is whether a gaming establishment would not be detrimental to the surrounding community.

If a favorable recommendation is made by the secretary of interior, the governor will have up to one year to decide whether to concur. An extension of up to 180 days can be granted by the secretary at the request of the governor or the tribe that is applying.

If the governor doesn't respond during the year or the additional 180 days, the secretary's determination becomes invalid and the casino isn't allowed.

A rough timeline suggests the secretary's determination could be on the governor's desk this winter.

Tony Venhuizen, the governor's director of communications, said the federal regulations "set forth a pretty clear process" for handling these requests.

"The regulations also say that the governor is supposed to consider the entire record created by the earlier steps in the process, so he has not felt that he should state an opinion without reviewing that record," Venhuizen said.

Daugaard, through aides, has negotiated two tribal gaming compacts that allowed for significant expansions of casino operations for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate and the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe.

Those agreements didn't call for a casino outside the established reservation areas.

The immediate decision for the governor is how to handle the BIA letter calling for comments that can be used by the interior secretary.

Venhuizen said the governor plans to meet with his advisers on these issues early next week to discuss how he should respond to that request, given his role in the process.

Lower Brule's plan for the 91 acres calls for a first phase costing $34 million. Tribal leaders for the Shakopee Mdewakanton in Minnesota have agreed to loan the money.

The first phase calls for a gambling center that would house 250 Class III slot machine-type devices, 250 Class II electronic-bingo devices, eight blackjack tables, four poker tables, the main floor of a hotel, a restaurant and lounge, a gift shop, an entertainment center and a travel plaza.

The second phase costing $19 million, to be paid from casino revenues, would cover 75 hotel rooms, a water park, a 27,000 square-feet event center and a recreation-vehicle park.

BIA's request for comments covers environmental impacts, effects on social structure, services, infrastructure, housing, community character, land-use patterns, economic development, income, employment, mitigation costs, gambling treatment and any other information the elected officials believe would be helpful in reaching decisions on the project.