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SHAWNEE CASINOS Officials question legality of plan



Published: Thu, February 24, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Land in Trumbull County is being put under option to buy as the project progresses.

With the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma set to announce plans Friday to buy land in Lordstown for a Las Vegas-type casino, Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro has some advice for Trumbull County commissioners, Lordstown village officials and others: Proceed slowly.

Petro, who opposes expansion of gambling, says that as long as the state does not permit Class 3 gambling, "Indian casinos very likely will not be established in Ohio."

A constitutional amendment to allow full-service casino gambling, or an expansion of the state lottery with slot machines in horse-racing tracks are the only avenues available to proponents, Petro said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

State Auditor Betty Montgomery, who also opposes expansion of gambling, said through a spokeswoman that resolutions passed by local governments in support of the Shawnee's proposed development are "largely symbolic."

Montgomery and Petro are Republicans who are seeking the party's nomination for governor in 2006. Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell is also making a bid for the GOP nomination. Blackwell, too, has come out against casino gambling.

Importance

The opinions expressed by the attorney general and the auditor are important because The Ohio Roundtable, a nonprofit public policy organization, has asked them to review actions taken by local governments around the state with regard to Shawnee's plans to build seven to nine casinos.

On Friday, Trumbull County commissioners will join members of the tribe and officials of National Capital I Inc., a development group, for "a major economic development and Ohio Turnpike Resort announcement," according to a news release.

The tribe will announce that it is acquiring property and will provide a specific location, said Commissioner James Tsagaris. That meeting will be at 11 a.m. in the commissioners' hearing room at the county administration building.

Terry Casey, former executive director of the Franklin County Republican Party and a consultant hired by the tribe to sell the idea of gambling casino-style to the governor and legislators, confirmed what Tsagaris said.

Shawnee Chief Charles Enyart has met with area state legislators and with Trumbull County officials, principally Tsagaris. The Lordstown resort would employ at least 2,500 and result in the village, the school district and Trumbull County government receiving financial benefit, he said.

Casey said he'll attend Friday with maps and a presentation on the tribe's activities here and in other parts of the state.

Lordstown Mayor Michael A. Chafee also will attend, the commissioners said.

The land being optioned is believed to total 137 acres in Lordstown and Jackson Township.

Casey declined Wednesday to discuss the specific Lordstown site. He said land is being put under option to buy as engineering for the project progresses.

Taft's stand

Republican Gov. Bob Taft has reiterated his opposition to the expansion of gambling in Ohio from the current state lottery, horse racing and bingo.

It's possible the tribe, faced with the governor's opposition, could go directly to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and apply for sites in Ohio to be designated as ancestral land, Casey has said. The Shawnees could then establish Category 2 gambling with slot machines and bingo. Then, they would not be required to pay taxes, nor give the state a cut of the revenue.

Casey, meanwhile, dismissed criticism of the tribe's ventures by The Ohio Roundtable as "just not even worth the paper it's printed on."

The Roundtable, a nonprofit group opposed to casino gambling in Ohio, said the Eastern Shawnee Tribe is trying to persuade Ohio lawmakers to open illegal casinos. "The people of Lorain, Lordstown, Botkins, Cleveland, Sandusky and Monroe are all being scammed by Mr. Casey and his clients," the organization said in a prepared statement.

The Roundtable is urging Ohioans who voted against casino gambling in 1990 and 1996 to contact Attorney General Petro and ask for an investigation.

"Now a single member of an obscure Oklahoma Indian Tribe with no legal land rights in Ohio is attempting to intimidate lawmakers and seize land in Ohio to open a chain of Vegas-style casinos," The Roundtable said. "The only people who would profit from such an enterprise are a handful of Eastern Shawnee Indians in Oklahoma, the wealthy developers backing them and a Republican consultant named Terry Casey."




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