Trust issuesLand-into-trust deals aimed at producing casino resorts still face uphill battles A buzzphrase currently making its way through the gaming industry is "reservation shopping," a term used to describe attempts by Indian tribes to bring non-tribal land into trust for the purpose of building a gaming facility outside of reservation boundaries. But the controversy surrounding a couple of recently proposed land-into-trust initiatives shows that it may be a while before this phrase makes it into everyday use.
The attempted deal that has generated the most talk occurred late in August when the Associated Press reported that Garden Grove, Calif., city officials had talked with casino developer Steve Wynn and the Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians about building a resort there with shopping, restaurants, live entertainment and gaming. If built, the resort would be located just blocks from Disneyland.
The development would be contingent upon the tribe exchanging some of its current property, in an isolated region near Santa Ysabel, for a tract of land in Garden Grove. Such land swaps are usually only successful when all parties-local, state and federal officials and the tribe-are in agreement and willing to approve the project.
"We have the opportunity to bring in the most premier resort developer to Orange County and create an attraction unlike anything else in California," City Manager Matt Fertal told AP at the time. "If people want to focus on just the gaming, then they're being very shortsighted."
Well, score one for the unimaginative. Soon after word for the proposed deal leaked out, the Garden Grove City Council voted to reject it.
"It is very clear to me that there is widespread opposition to gambling in Orange County," Councilman Mark Rosen was quoted by the Associated Press. "We shouldn't take it any further because of that."
For his part, Wynn said the talks were in the extreme preliminary stages and that he was in no way involved in trying to promote the casino idea or sway civic leaders to adopt the project.
Meanwhile, a land-into-trust deal seeking to bring a casino to the Illinois community of Lynwood also appears in jeopardy, although it has garnered some local support. The arrangement, in which a soccer complex currently owned by the Ho-Chunk would be converted into a resort facility with slot machines, has raised the ire of U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Joliet/Bloomington). He told a crowd gathered outside Harrah's Riverboat in Joliet that any legislation aimed at bringing the complex into trust would be "dead on arrival," reported The Times of Northwest Indiana
But hours after Rep. Weller made his comments, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Chicago) said Weller's comments were the "equivalent to saying 5,000 jobs are dead in the water in Illinois."
"I'm not in a position, and I don't think any of us are, to say 'no' to new revenue," Jackson said.
Weller released a statement claiming the proposed casino would directly compete with riverboat gambling in Joliet, which provides nearly 3,000 jobs. He also charged the Ho-Chunk Nation with attempting to seek special legislation to circumvent state and federal laws.
Proponents of the casino said they were investigating the possibility of congressional action, which would allow for a Ho-Chunk casino in Lynwood. That would be much faster than appealing to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to have the Lynwood soccer complex declared federal trust land for the Ho-Chunk, a tribe that is based in Wisconsin and currently operates successful casinos in Madison, Baraboo, Black River Falls and Nekosa.
Jackson said the proposed land-based casino resort would provide 5,000 jobs at an annual salary of $45,000 a year, as well as $87 million a year in tax revenue for the state and surrounding communities.
The tribe has already purchased the Southland Sports and Expo Center in Lynwood, and will continue to allow indoor soccer matches there. The Ho-Chunk also are considering offering a baseball skills academy, sporting goods shop and "virtual" golf driving range.
The nation said it hopes the soccer facility would eventually feature 3,000 slot machines and 100 table games. The casino would be the hub of a 430-acre development that would include an 800-room hotel, water park, movie theaters, shopping center and museum showcasing Native American culture.