A state legislator says many hurdles must be cleared before a casino could open.
LORDSTOWN -- A Shawnee Indian chief has told area state legislators that his tribe plans to buy land in Lordstown for a Las Vegas-style casino.
It would be one of five such casinos built in Ohio if Gov. Bob Taft and the General Assembly agree to a deal that would result in a percentage share of the casinos' revenue being pledged to the state treasury.
The land deal in Lordstown is expected to be closed today, according to state Sens. Marc Dann of Liberty, D-32nd, and Robert Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd, and state Reps. Sandra Stabile Harwood of Niles, D-65th, and Kenneth Carano of Austintown, D-59th.
These four legislators, along with freshman Rep. Randy Law of Warren, R-64th, said they met last week with Chief Charles Enyart of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and two individuals hired by the tribe to sell the idea of gambling casino-style to the governor and legislators. The two are Terry Casey, former executive director of the Franklin County Republican Party, and Mary Anne Sharkey, the governor's former communications director.
"I was really pleased to meet them," Harwood said, noting that her son-in-law in Arizona is an American Indian.
She said the tribe was scheduled to close on the land in Lordstown today, adding that a portion of the site is in Mahoning County.
"It's right off the turnpike, and they're talking about a cloverleaf for easy access," Harwood said.
Dann, Hagan and Carano offered the same information, but added that the legislators weren't given any specifics of the land deal even though they asked several times.
"The Shawnee tribe is very serious" about bringing casino gambling to Ohio, Dann said. "They can make a great deal of money."
But the senator, who is a lawyer, contended that the Indian tribe is underestimating the impediments to the expansion of gambling in Ohio. Currently, the law permits only bingo and the state lottery.
He explained that the highest hurdle may not be the governor, who has already publicly voiced his opposition to casino-style gambling, but the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
"They can buy land, and then the process is they have to put that land in trust and that has to be approved by the federal government," Dann said. "There are a whole series of things that have to be done, including local communities addressing the impact" of the project.
Indian tribes have casinos and bingo parlors in 29 states and four provinces in Canada. In the United States, federal law permits the tribes to enter into compacts with governors. In Ohio, the General Assembly must also give its permission.
If the state declines, the tribe could petition the Bureau of Indian Affairs for a claim to ancestral lands in Ohio, the Associated Press reported recently. If successful, the land would be recognized as a sovereign nation, permitting the Eastern Shawnee Tribe to establish Class 2 gambling operations, with no requirement to pay state and local taxes or share gambling proceeds.
"They're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the state," Dann said of the compact that Chief Enyart is trying to reach with Republican Gov. Taft and the Republican dominated House and Senate.
"We would provide many, many jobs," the Associated Press quoted Enyart, 68, as saying. "We'd be a good neighbor. With the state, we'd provide help with their budget problems."
Ohio's budget crisis has reached the life-support stage. The governor is expected to detail his plans for meeting the challenge of balancing the general fund in the next biennium during his State of the State address Tuesday. The continuation of the 1-penny sales tax, which expires June 1, is expected to be a cornerstone of his plan.
Without the tax, and without other spending or a major infusion of revenue, the state is facing a $4 billion shortfall in the general fund.
Nonetheless, Taft remains opposed to any expansion of gambling.
"He believes the social ills outweigh the potential financial gain," Orest Holubec, the governor's spokesman, told the Associated Press. "He also doesn't view gambling revenue as a stable revenue source, nor to bond-rating agencies."
Last year, a legislative initiative that would permit slot machines in horse-racing tracks failed to garner support for a floor vote. Recently, Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell and other big city officeholders have been urging the legislature to pass a bill to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would permit local communities to vote on whether they wanted casino-style gambling.