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Cheyenne River Sioux debate gaming proposal

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EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. - Cheyenne River Sioux tribal officials continued to debate the gaming issue early this month and may allow tribal members to decide the issue on the November ballot.

The Cheyenne River Sioux reservation in north central South Dakota is the only reservation in South Dakota without gaming. A recent proposal before the tribal council would open the doors to the gaming industry.

The tribe has been slow to embrace gaming, but the council voted earlier this year to negotiate a gaming compact with the state. Tribal Chairman Gregg Bourland said this move would allow the tribe to try gaming with a few slot machines in its Super 8 Motel on Highway 212 in Eagle Butte.

Late last month the issue met opposition, largely from religious leaders and those fearing the addition of gaming would contribute to increased social ills, Chairman Bourland said.

Earlier when the debate focused on negotiating the compact, Marcella Lebeau testified against it because she said the tribe was already dealing with enough social challenges including poverty, unemployment, widespread alcohol and drug use.

"We don't need to add gambling to our social problems. We're hoping they will rescind the whole thing," she said.

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Despite a recent survey of people on the reservation, which Bourland said showed strong interest in a casino, many tribal members attending an Aug. 23 public hearing opposed the idea.

"There were a lot of people who were very concerned about a casino on the reservation. The tribal council is going to discuss the issue ... deciding whether we are going to do a referendum and place it on the November ballot or just do it."

Meanwhile, Bourland said the tribe has no immediate plans to build a full-scale casino.

"When we say casino, it is sort of a misnomer because the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe at the present time has no plans for a casino. We've agreed to a compact with the state. We have a conference center at the Super 8 Motel. All we want to do is put a few slot machines in the motel. We're not going to invest a bunch of money and build a big building," he said.

Bourland said the investment will be minimal because it will mean only upgrading wiring in the motel to accommodate the new machines. Its vendor will actually own the machines until the tribe finishes paying them off under a lease-purchase agreement with SoDak Gaming Inc.

"We're looking at the pros and cons. We're looking at a three-year contract that can be canceled at any time and not investing really any money in to it. By investing in a lease-to-own deal with SoDak, we thought it was something we could get into and out of real fast without any expense. If it started becoming a social problem, we can throw it out instantly."

State officials are standing by to see what the tribal council decides. Gov. Bill Janklow has delayed signing a proposed gambling compact from the tribe until the issue is resolved.