As the stomach turns, a tribal casino in Guymon makes no sense
Published: March 27th, 2017
Concerning a casino “for” the Shawnee in Guymon, Oklahoma, a critical summary:
Over recent weeks, news stories indicate the U.S. Department of Interior (which means the Bureau of Indian Affairs – BIA) has given the green light to a “Golden Mesa Casino” in the Texas Panhandle.
Chief Ron Sparkman of the Loyal Shawnee Tribe celebrated in a March 7 statement: “As a landless tribe, the granting of land represents a historic event of indescribable importance to us.”
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, who once opposed odd decisions in Indian Country, backed the site – although perhaps that is for pragmatic reasons that will become clearer in the future.
Back in January former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, who was quite often an ally of smaller tribes (including the Shawnee), said compromise legislation he helped initially shape for the Shawnee “was never intended as a blank check for the Tribe to go reservation shopping in unassigned lands. The Guymon proposal must be recognized as another illegitimate attempt to build in an area where it has no historic connection.”
State Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward, assailed it from the git-go. In a Senate staff release early this year, he said (among other things):
“The Shawnee Tribe has no more connection to Texas County than do any of the multinational corporations that operate the premier Las Vegas resorts and hotels. If we are going to expand gambling anywhere in the state, perhaps we should look at who the best operators of such facilities really are and whether they would agree to terms that would provide the state more revenue for critical needs like teacher pay.”
Even if the Interior Department really has approved this, there is more than has yet met the eye in this consideration – by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) late in the Obama administration, the subsequent purported agreement of the new Trump administration a little over a month ago, and Fallin’s applause — to put Panhandle land into tribal trust for the Shawnee.
Regional BIA offices have been known to act without adequate supervision from the nation’s capital, so I’m not quite convinced this idea originated Back East. As Marlatt pointed out, the Shawnee Tribe’s headquarters in Ottawa County is closer to Des Moines, Iowa than to Guymon, Oklahoma.
But under the Loyal Shawnee Act passed early in the second Bush presidency, the tribe can seek trust lands in the Panhandle or in Old Greer County. (That’s a big chunk of southwestern Oklahoma that, once upon a time, was considered part of the Republic of Texas. Some reference the area as “Texola” for the town just east of the state line, along the Interstate.)
If there’s going to be a deal, real estate in southwest Oklahoma makes more sense for the Shawnees’ economic ambitions. But a Shawnee casino along the I-40 corridor might interfere with long-range ambitions of the largest Indian Gaming player hereabouts, the Chicksaw. Their furthest west casinos are now at Pocassett and Duncan. It no secret the Chickasaw Tribe would like to go border to border, across all of southern Oklahoma. They have lots of options, but some of their trust land victories remain in dispute or at least debatable.
Not to be forgotten, the Comanche Nation envisions a nice gaming facility in Red River Country.
Why not let the little guys have a chance – in areas that actually have tribal histories?
Some wags say this all was/is a late power play from the Obama Administration, to leave a mess for Team Trump to clean up. Although Obama has significantly expanded trust land decisions to benefit the Native American tribes, he often had a sensitivity to the smaller tribes.
To be perfectly clear, advancing this tribal casino in the Panhandle may bring new scrutiny of the curious deals made in and around Indian Country over many decades. David Rogers described the overall picture as follows, in an October 2015 story for Politico:
“From Oklahoma to California, rich tribes play the political system to protect their share of the gaming markets. Lost is any perspective on the hundreds of poorer tribes just trying to establish some economic foothold and homeland for themselves. …”
The Guymon idea does not make much sense for the Shawnee. It does not really help the Chickasaw to continue developing an economic base beyond gaming.
It only makes sense if you think the rich should get richer, and the poor should stay in their place.
This is one where the nascent Trump administration could actually make things better for the smaller tribes. Hope springs eternal. Somehow, somebody somewhere needs to send this back to the drawing board.