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YOUNGSTOWN Tribe: No tie to area casino plan



Published: Mon, February 25, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A group that wants to open a casino here said it will have to work with another tribe.

By JEFF ORTEGA

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

COLUMBUS -- Efforts to bring an Indian gaming casino to Mahoning County that mention interest by the Wyandot nation are not authorized by the tribe, according to a letter from a tribal leader to Ohio Gov. Bob Taft.

The letter, sent last month by Wyandot Chief Leaford Bearskin to Taft, said the tribe isn't involved in any potential gaming casino developments in the state.

"Please know that these efforts have been undertaken without the knowledge or approval of the nation," the letter said. "None of the individuals associated with the so-called 'Youngstown Casino' are authorized to represent the Wyandot nation."

"Furthermore, please understand that while the Wyandot nation was historically the predominant tribe in Ohio until being removed to the Kansas Territory in 1843, at the present time we are not pursuing any development efforts, including tribal gaming facilities, in the state of Ohio," said the letter.

Joe Andrews, a spokesman for the governor, said the letter came unsolicited to the governor's office of constituent affairs. No one from the governor's office has spoken with Indian officials, Andrews said. Andrews said there was no question of the letter's authenticity.

Committee: The Casino for Youngstown Committee, which has maintained that a casino would bring significant economic development benefits, had reportedly been in contact with representatives of the Wyandot Indian tribe, which they said was interested in opening a casino in the Mahoning Valley.

The committee had been seeking Taft's support for the venture.

Andrews said the letter hasn't affected Taft's position on the casino issue.

"The governor wasn't going to permit gambling there anyway," Andrews said. "He still has the same policy to not permit gambling unless it's voted in by the people."

Twice in the 1990s, voters rejected proposals to legalize casino gambling in the state, according to gambling opponents.

Backers of the idea to bring a casino to the Mahoning Valley say a casino would employ about 2,000 people and would be an engine of economic development in the hard-hit area.

Reaction: "I'm very shocked that the tribe contacted them because they were so cooperative," said Pat MacKondy, coordinator for the Casino for Youngstown Committee.

"We do have an Indian tribe, if it's not the Wyandot, we got others," MacKondy said.

Sebastian Rucci, a lawyer working with the committee, said he has been in contact with the Indian chief and tribal representatives.

The governor's statement that he won't support any casino without a vote of the people may have scared off the Wyandots, Rucci said.

"My belief is after the governor said no, they wanted to distance themselves," Rucci said.

Indian tribes operate about 300 casinos in 29 states, but none in Ohio, where gambling casinos are illegal.

Committee officials agree with Taft that a vote of the people should be taken to permit casino gambling. Where they disagree with the governor is who should get to vote.

The counties affected or close by or perhaps those in a 50-mile radius of the proposed site should be the only people permitted to cast ballots on a Youngstown casino because they would be the ones most affected, Rucci said.




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