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U.S. senator lends assistance in seeking answers to casino questions

By Roger McKinney -- The Joplin Globe, Mo.

COLUMBUS, Kan. (MCT) - Cherokee County officials have enlisted U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to help seek information about the land on which the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma is building its Downstream Casino and Resort at the state line.

The casino in Ottawa County in Oklahoma would compete with a state-owned casino proposed for construction nearby in Kansas.

A spokesman for the tribe said the county officials might first try calling tribal officials with their questions.

Roberts' letter, dated Oct. 24, is addressed to Carl Artman, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs with the U.S. Interior Department. Roberts wrote that he was writing on behalf of the Cherokee County Commission to be responsive to concerns of his constituents.

''I understand that the county commissioners have questions and concerns regarding an out-of-state tribe's construction of a Class III gaming facility - most of which will be located in Cherokee County, Kansas,'' Roberts wrote. ''I ask that you review the enclosed letter and provide the county commissioners with a thorough response.''

In the letter, Roberts refers to another letter dated Oct. 18 to Artman from David Cooper, an attorney with the Topeka law firm Fisher, Patterson, Sayler and Smith.

Answers sought

In that letter, Cooper notes that the Globe had reported that the tribe owns 85 acres in Oklahoma, 120 acres in Kansas and 30 acres in Missouri, and that tribal Chairman John Berrey had said that the parking lot of the Downstream Casino and Resort would be on the Cherokee County property.

Cooper addressed several questions to Artman, which he had previously discussed with the Cherokee County Commission. They include:

"Has the secretary of Interior taken the Downstream Casino land into trust?

"Did the tribe disclose the intended use for the land when placing the land into trust?

"Has the land used for the casino been determined to be ''Indian lands'' as required by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act?

"Has the tribe responded to a letter from the National Indian Gaming Commission asking the tribe to provide information demonstrating that the tribal gaming would be conducted on Indian lands?

The Quapaw Tribe has started building its planned $200 million Downstream Casino Resort near Interstate 44, Exit 1. The planned opening of the hotel and casino is in July 2008.

Penn National Gaming has applied to the Kansas Lottery Commission for a contract to operate a $295 million Hollywood Casino - Cherokee County. That hotel and casino also is planned near Interstate 44, Exit 1, a short distance from the Quapaw Tribe's planned casino and hotel.

Sean Harrison, a spokesman for the Quapaw Tribe, said the behavior of Cherokee County officials is puzzling.

''They could just call up John Berrey and ask him these questions,'' Harrison said. ''He hasn't heard from them. The only thing he has heard is through a reporter. I feel that John Berrey would answer their questions if they would approach him about it.''

Berrey had previously said the tribe was following all laws and regulations in building the casino, and he welcomed answering the commissioners' questions. He did not offer any specifics as to the questions when told of them by a reporter. He labeled Cherokee County's effort as harassment of the tribe.

Attorney's role

Cooper is working for Cherokee County. Though he previously has represented the county for the county's insurance carrier, county counselor Kevin Cure said the county hired him because of his expertise on gaming issues.

Since July, the county has paid Cooper's firm $30,727 for his legal services. The county has an agreement with Penn National Gaming that the company would reimburse the county for any expenses the county incurs connected with the casino project.

County Treasurer Juanita Hodgson said so far, Penn National has reimbursed the county $1,413, the amount of Cooper's August bill.

Penn National also has yet to repay the county for the $25,965 cost of the June 5 casino referendum election.

Cherokee County Commission Chairman Rodney Edmondson said he was confident Penn National would pay the money it owes the county.

Richard Klemp, vice president for government relations for Penn National, said Oct. 26 that the company would reimburse the county for all expenses connected with the project, as outlined in the agreement between them. After checking with a company lawyer, he said several invoices were in the accounting pipeline.

Edmondson said Cooper made the contact with people on Roberts' staff. He said the senator's help was appreciated.

''That's kind of encouraging,'' Edmondson said. ''We just want the questions answered.''

Klemp said Penn National is not trying to hinder the Quapaw Tribe from building its casino.

''We think they're legitimate questions,'' Klemp said. ''We're just focused on our project, a first-class destination casino and hotel. We can't control what the Quapaw Tribe does.''

Casino deadline

Penn National Gaming so far is the only company to file a casino management application in the state's Southeast Gaming Zone, comprising Cherokee and Crawford counties. The deadline for a company to file applications in the zone is Dec. 6.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Joplin Globe, Mo. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.