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Will Kansas become the Native American Las Vegas?

LAWRENCE, Kan. - Some of the 19 tribes temporarily relocated in Kansas by the federal government want to reclaim lands lost when they were removed to Oklahoma in the late 1880s, so they can open casinos.

The Miami Tribe of Oklahoma attempted to put 35 acres into trust near the Kansas-Missouri border. It was turned down by the BIA after the state of Kansas sued, claiming the tribe didn't own land in that area. The Miami may attempt to gain the land in another round of court battles. During the first attempts, the Miami announced they were going to build a casino on the land.

The Delaware Tribe of Oklahoma wants to buy land north of Lawrence to build a convention center, hotel, casino and museum. Although no definite agreement has been made, some area residents are circulating petitions to stop the proposed entertainment center.

The Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma has gone one step farther, actually beginning renovation of a building on land the tribe owns near downtown Kansas City. Previous attempts by the tribe to buy the Woodlands Race Track were not successful, so it began the renovations to get ready to open in the near future.

Local newspaper accounts in the area reported that interim members of a legislative committee were "flabbergasted" when they took a field trip to Kansas City and discovered the Wyandotte renovations for the proposed new casino. One legislator was quoted saying the new casinos would open "over our dead bodies."

Keith Wallace, who is in charge of the Wyandotte Casino renovation, laughed at the newspaper account. "I hate to see 'em laying here in the street, but I think we are going to open."

On a more serious note, Wallace said as long as discussions continued between the tribe and the state, he believes the casino will be able to open in Kansas City. "It will be a little jewel sitting here in downtown Kansas City.

"We still have dialogue going with the governor and staff. As long as we have dialogue we feel good. We feel we have a right to open. We are on trust land. There are four tribes in the state with compacts and we feel there is no reason that they shouldn't compact with the Wyandotte," Wallace said.

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The Kickapoo, Prairie Band Potawatomi, Sac & Fox and Iowa tribes all have casinos operating in northeastern Kansas.

Wallace said he believes that gaming if done correctly, can be a great economic boost to tribes. But, he said, if it is done incorrectly it can cause bitterness and fighting within a tribe.

"The great thing about the Wyandotte in Oklahoma is Chief Bearskin, he wants to help the children's educations and the elders. He is seventy-eight years old and wants to see this happen while he is still around. He's a true leader and means well for his people."

Other tribes also are calling for information about building casinos in the state, officials said. Kansas Gov. Bill Graves has turned down requests from tribes outside the state , but said that could change if courts rule in favor of the tribes seeking to reclaim land holdings within the state.

Don Brown, Graves' communications director, said that until the issue of what is and isn't trust land is clarified in court, trying to figure out if other tribes would be able to build casinos in Kansas is like trying to put the cart in front of the horse.

So far, Brown said, the state has only made compacts with tribes who have existing reservations within the state boundaries.

Riverboat gambling is legal on the Missouri River. With the proposed new Indian casinos, officials say Kansas may soon find its identity altered as it goes from a state known for wheat fields to one known for its casinos.

In addition to the four tribally owned casinos, Kansas also has a lottery.