When a casino was last considered in Enid two years ago, the deal involved government incentives and land, making it a very public matter.
Now the same tribe, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, is again talking to the Enid City Commission about building a casino in roughly the same area — albeit on slightly different land with different owners.
The tribe was approached by a group of developers — Garfield Investment Holdings, from the Enid area — about putting a casino in Enid. The UKB is proposing a 20,000-square-foot casino possibly opening as early as 2020 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.
This is a separate project from the 12,000-square-foot Fancy Dance Casino already planned east of Enid at the southeast corner of Interstate 35 and U.S. 412, where the Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma owns 106 acres of land. That tribe is collaborating with Chickasaw Nation's Global Gaming Solutions to build that casino in a rural area of Noble County.
Back in Garfield County, the proposed UKB casino would be alongside a city park within the Enid city limits. A recent study session generated an interesting discussion, but no vote was taken.
The deal may be different this time, but the question remains the same for Enid residents: Will the positives outweigh the negatives?
As a sovereign entity, the UKB tribe is not subject to state or city sales tax, or any taxes. Dangling a carrot, the UKB is offering to inject $12 million into the city of Enid over seven years and also has proposed to set up a 10-year Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement.
Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell, an outspoken casino critic, noted there are no guarantees the tribe will continue to pay anything after a decade.
UKB tribal Attorney General Klint A. Cowan noted the tribe’s casino won’t have its own police department, firefighters and utilities, making it dependent on the city of Enid for those services.
How will our community deal with the social problems and law enforcement issues brought by potentially addictive gambling?
Surprisingly, a tribe official said it would not plan to sell alcohol or beer at the casino but mentioned a cafe and wet bar. Also, the official said the venue would not compete with the Central National Bank Center but suggested phase two could include movie theaters, a bowling alley, laser tag and arcade if the casino is profitable.
Also, promoters say the proposed casino is projected to offer 157 full-time jobs. Even considering these are primarily low-paying jobs, the numbers just don’t add up.
According to an unscientific poll at EnidNews.com, 62 percent of voters think Enid needs a casino, while 38 percent do not.
We doubt the project has that much support from the city commission, but it may not matter. As a sovereign nation, the UKB could take the land into trust and open a casino in Enid even if the city commission does not give its approval. For the time being, the best strategy for opposition is to lobby the governor not to give consent to the project.
If the project does move forward, the city commission will need to negotiate the best deal for our community.