WYANDOTTE, Okla. - The Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma has begun remodeling a building, which sits adjacent to the Huron Cemetery in Kansas City, Kan.
The building, which formerly housed the Knights of Columbus, is being transformed into a casino. Despite opposition from the four tribes in Kansas and the governor of Kansas, the Wyandotte say they are "tired of waiting" and plan to open the casino later this year, following a court decision which upheld the tribe's right to open a casino in the Kansas City area.
The tribe has a long history in the area, but was finally forced to move following the Civil War. Its elected chief, Leaford Bearskin, said the tribe never gave up land set aside as trust land. The only catch was that the land they kept in the Kansas City area was the Huron Cemetery. Original reports about a casino being built over the cemetery had Kansas City residents up in arms.
The tribe bought land adjacent to the cemetery and the Secretary of Interior put it in trust for the Wyandotte for the purpose of gaming.
"After this happened, the four tribes stationed in Kansas and the governor of Kansas sued the Secretary of Interior, stating that he used wrongful procedures for putting this land in trust. Anyway, we waited for two years for the judge up there to make a ruling on the case. Last month we got a ruling from the judge. He dismissed the case in our favor," Bearskin said.
The original casino plans were to buy the Woodlands Race Track, a horse and dog racing facility in Wyandotte County, Kan., and to turn it into a casino. Bearskin said the tribe considered possibly leasing out the horse and dog racing part of the business to "someone who knew what they were doing."
The race track was built just before riverboat gambling became legal in Kansas and has suffered a big drop in business since the casinos along the Missouri opened. The facility was for sale after owners declared bankruptcy and both the city and the tribe believed the Woodlands location would solve the problem of where to build the Wyandotte casino.
But, Bearskin said, someone else bought the Woodlands and the tribe was back to square one.
The building the tribe owns next to the cemetery is in downtown Kansas City, across from the courthouse.
"We made agreements with the city up there. They don't want us to put a casino downtown and we don't want downtown. We made a proposal to buy the Woodlands when it was in bankruptcy. The people of Kansas City were behind us, but someone else bought it.
"We told the city that if all else failed, we would put a casino in the building we had. We've been waiting and waiting and waiting. So we told them about three or four weeks ago we were going to put a casino in that building. We hope to have it done this fall," Bearskin said.
"We threatened to put a casino over the cemetery at one point," he said, "Since that time, we have still been attempting to get the Woodlands or another location for the casino. The Knights of Columbus building was our last option, so we decided to go with that because it seemed to be the only way we could get a casino in Kansas City, Kan. However, we are still looking at the Woodlands as our number one objective.
"We decided to take our last option and we decided to put a casino there. If any other place becomes available to us, we will stop our renovation and move out to that location," Bearskin added.
Kansas City will benefit financially from the casino when it is completed, he said. The North American Management Corp. out of Florida will manage the casino for the tribe when it is finished.
"We will give minority groups in the area preference for employment. Most of our employment will go to the local area. If we go to Woodlands Race Track, we will probably have a $40 million or $50 million payroll."
"We've been working on a casino up there for the past four or five years," Bearskin said, "We're tired of waiting. Most of the people in Kansas City want us in Kansas City and we can benefit the area with all kinds of good community efforts."