Canton Repository

Aug. 13, 2005

Senators want to keep Indian casinos out

By Paul M. Krawzak

Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — The state’s two senators are backing efforts in Congress that would prevent the Eastern Band of Shawnee from opening casinos in Massillon or other proposed sites in Ohio.

Both Sens. George Voinovich, R-Cleveland, and Mike DeWine, R-Cedarville, oppose any expansion of gaming in the state and have signed on as supporters of legislation that would prohibit or restrict Indian gaming in Ohio.

In recent weeks, Voinovich has become one of the Senate’s most prominent foes of Indian gaming.

Testifying before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee last month, Voinovich accused the Oklahoma-based Shawnee of blackmailing the state through a lawsuit that he said has the ulterior motive of acquiring gaming rights in Ohio.

“The Eastern Shawnee, and the groups financing their efforts in Ohio, are clearly blackmailing the state and they are not even being subtle about it,” he said. “The reality here is that they were looking at location and then looking at the legality of bringing in a casino.”

Shawnee Chief Charles D. Enyart took exception to Voinovich’s statement at the same hearing.

“Our land claim has never been intended to be blackmail,” he told the committee, which is chaired by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “We have been upfront with the state of Ohio.”

Enyart said the tribe sued the state after Gov. Bob Taft and Attorney General Jim Petro, who oppose Indian gaming, refused to discuss Shawnee claims.

The tribe filed the suit June 27, seeking to reclaim 92,800 acres of former reservation land and the use of 11,315 square miles of hunting and fishing land. The Shawnee consider Ohio their homeland. They were removed from the state in the early 1800s.

Although the lawsuit is far from resolved, the tribe has been talking with cities throughout the state that are potential locations for casinos, including Massillon.

On Thursday, Terry Casey, a spokesman for the Shawnee, said Massillon is “at the top of the list” among several sites that are being considered in Stark County. The tribe has not disclosed the other sites in the county.

The Shawnee also have thought about putting a casino in Tuscarawas County, which Casey said benefits from easy access via Interstate 77. But he said there has been less support in Tuscarawas than in Stark.

Up to now, no tribe based in one state has managed to get approval from the federal government to open a casino in another state where it does not have a reservation. Based in Oklahoma and lacking any land or rights in Ohio, the Shawnee are attempting to reclaim property in Ohio and open casinos in the state.

But out of hundreds of Indian casinos, the federal government has only given three of them permission to be located off-reservation. In all three cases, in Michigan, Wisconsin and Washington, the tribes that won gaming rights for Indian land off their reservations already were established in those states.

Voinovich has signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill introduced by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., which would give governors and state legislatures enhanced powers to prevent the establishment of Indian casinos and tighten restrictions on opening casinos outside of a reservation.

With DeWine as a co-sponsor, Voinovich has introduced his own bill, which he said would clarify existing law by limiting any Indian gaming to forms of gambling that already are legal in a state.

Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, whose congressional district includes Stark County, did not respond to requests for an interview to discuss his views on Indian gaming in Ohio.

Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath, opposes further federal regulation of Indian gaming.

“There already exists a very rigorous review process in place between individual states’ governments, the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs for determining the eligibility of any tribe that wants to enter the gaming industry,” Ney’s spokesman Brian Walsh said. Ney, he added, believes that review process “should continue without additional intervention from Congress.”

Legislation that has the best chance of being considered by Congress is that which would emerge from the House Resources Committee or Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which have jurisdiction over Indian issues in their respective chambers.

Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House Resources Committee, plans to introduce a bill in the fall which, in its current draft form, would prohibit a tribe from opening a casino outside its own state.

The Shawnee bid to reclaim land in Ohio and establish casino gaming faces long odds, largely as a consequence of political opposition, some observers say.

Taft opposes Indian gaming, along with other state officials and the two senators.

Steven Light, co-director of the Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law and Policy at the University of North Dakota, said the Shawnee’s chances of establishing gaming in Ohio through the standard route of winning federal approval are “slim to none.”

“When there is a high degree of political opposition in a state, that creates extremely high barriers for a tribe,” he said. “The courts also are not terribly predisposed to those kinds of claims for ancestral homelands,” he added.

Casey, the Shawnee’s spokesman, is optimistic the tribe eventually will win the right to have casinos in Ohio. “I think the percentages are high,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when, and it does take time to go through any kind of governmental process.”