City commission hears proposed casino details

The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians tribe is proposing to build a casino on 5.4 acres of property at 730 S. 9th. (Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle)

ENID, Okla. — The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians tribe is proposing a casino possibly opening as early as 2020 in east Enid.

During an Enid City Commission study session Tuesday, City Manager Jerald Gilbert said the tribe has been interested in putting a casino in Enid for several years.

“We discussed that probably the best way to bring this forward, and talk about it in the community, was to come in here in study session,” he said, noting the commissioners have questions, and some questions have been asked on social media.

One question, related to the city charter containing a provision that discusses the city’s power to prohibit gambling, was addressed by City Attorney Carol Lahman.

“I imagine that it’s the intention of the tribe that they would have trust land,” she said, adding it would be the tribe’s sovereign land. “If that occurs … it’s part of our community, but it’s not part of the city that is governed by the charter, or for that matter, Oklahoma law. It would only be governed by their own law and federal law.”

Randall Hendrix, executive director for the UKB Corporate Board, said the proposed casino would be located on 5.4 acres of property at 730 S. 9th. It would take about $10 million to renovate an existing building there into the 20,000-square-foot casino.

The casino would feature smoking and nonsmoking sections, and class two and class three Vegas-style games, he said. There also will be a cafe and wet bar, serving foods like hamburgers and nachos.

“We don’t plan to sell alcohol or beer. We never have done that before in our old casino, and it seems to work out well for us,” Hendrix said.

In a market study, it was found there are roughly 32 to 36 casinos in a 100-mile radius of Enid influencing the market here, he said.

The gamer population for this defined market, consisting of people 19 years of age and older, is expected to be about 930,000 by 2020. The Enid market itself contains about 37,000 gamer adults, Hendrix said.

The tribe expects $27.3 million in local game revenue per year, he said. Incentives for the city of Enid would involve the injection of $12 million into the city over a period of seven years.

Also, there has been discussion of an agreement with the city to set up a payment, in lieu of taxes, that will occur every month, based on proceedings from the casino, Hendrix said. That would be for a term of 10 years, then it would be renegotiated with possibly a cost-of-living increase.

It is projected the proposed casino will offer 157 full-time jobs, he said.

“The Keetoowahs are a friendly and peaceful tribe. We want to go where we’re wanted,” Hendrix said. 

He said the tribe is not in the entertainment business and would not compete with the event center, or have a hotel, but has gathered the city is in need of a new movie theater.

The Choctaw tribe has a family-friendly gaming playground in Durant with movie theaters, a bowling alley, laser tag and arcade. Hendrix said similar services could possibly be part of a phase two, at a later time, once the Enid casino is open and profitable.

He said the tribe would like to boost the east side, and draw people.

The first step in the process is the need for a “yes” vote from the city commission, Hendrix said.

“The citizens are already gaming at other casinos. We would bring something fun and different to do here in town. And with our phase two opportunity, there would be a ton of fun things to do for families to come to Enid,” he said.

An agreement has not be discussed at length because this is the first step, Gilbert told the commission. He asked what would happen if the commission did not grant its support.

Tribe Attorney General Klint A. Cowan said an application must be made to the U.S. Department of Interior to take the property into trust for the tribe.

“The tribe doesn’t necessarily need the city’s agreement with that, but UKB wants to work with the city and wants the city’s support,” he said.

Oklahoma’s governor will have to agree the land can be taken into trust for gaming purposes, Cowan said.

UKB Assistant Chief Jamie Thompson said the tribe operated a casino for 28 years in Tahlequah. It currently is closed due to litigation involving the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, he said.

The tribe was approached by a group of developers — Garfield Investment Holdings, from the Enid area — about putting a casino in town, Thompson said.

Mayor Bill Shewey asked what properties the tribe owns in Enid now, and Thompson said the tribe does not own any property.

Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell said the tribe’s attorney said something different, and noted the tribe has some interest in a laundromat building and the Dexeus building.

Thompson and Cowan both said the development group owns property, and Thompson said he would not disclose who is part of the group until contracts are being signed.

After the meeting, Lisa Liebl, a spokeswoman for the UKB tribe, clarified the property proposed for the casino — at 730 S. 9th — is owned by an LLC owned by Enid resident Randy Miller.

She said the tribe is not pursuing the property on the corner of 9th and Garriott — where the Dexeus building at 825 E. Garriott is located — for trust purposes. 

“It is looking at contiguous properties to be owned in fee simple. That property is one of those properties,” Liebl said. 

That property is not owned by Garfield Investment Holdings, she said.

During the meeting, Ezzell expressed he is not in favor of the casino.

“I don’t think casinos are a net positive to any community, and I don’t want one here,” he said. “I hope that at least three more of my fellow commissioners will recognize that, ‘Listen, this isn’t good for Enid.”

“Let’s just put the brakes on this and make Enid the most difficult community in Oklahoma to build a casino.”

There was no action, as study sessions are merely for discussion.

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Involved in news reporting for about 15 years, I've been with the Enid News & Eagle since 2014, when my family moved to Enid to be on the family farm.

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