By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily News /email@example.com
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - The Rocky Boy tribal council is looking at both short- and long-term ways to expand tribally-owned gambling as a way to generate more income for tribal programs.
For a 60-day trial period starting next month, the Bear Paw Casino at Rocky Boy Agency will have 20 electronic bingo machines that allow players to compete via the Internet, in real time, with players at Indian-owned casinos across the country.
The maximum payout from the Rocket Bingo machines is $200,000, said project organizer Robert Swan of RJS & Associates Inc.
The tribe has also authorized $25,000 to study the potential for a 150-machine casino located on U.S. Highway 87 at Laredo.
Casino manager Mary Clark said the tribe now has about 59 poker and keno machines with a maximum payout of $800.
The tribe is finalizing its contract with the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma Business Development Authority to provide the Rocket Bingo machines, Swan said Tuesday. He expects the machines to arrive in three to four weeks.
If the test period goes well, Swan said, the machines will stay.
"I think it's going to happen, but I have to see it to believe it," he said.
The machines will be financed by profit-sharing, Swan said. Seventy percent of the profits will go to Bear Paw Casino, and 30 percent to the Miami Tribe.
According to Gaming Magazine, electronic bingo machines are Class II machines in Montana. They are not state-regulated and there are no payout limits. Keno and poker machine payouts are limited to $800 in nontribal casinos, and $1,000 in tribal casinos.
Gaming Magazine also reported that the Blackfeet Bingo Hall has had a $25,000 winner, a $19,000 winner and several $5,000 winners on Rocket Bingo.
"We're going to guarantee security will be provided," tribal council chair John "Chance" Houle said Tuesday. "The parking lot will be lighted so people will feel comfortable coming to try our machines."
Swan said more than half the Montana reservations already have Rocket Bingo. Eventually the Rocket Bingo machines will be linked by region, so Montana and Wyoming will be linked together. In Florida, Rocket Bingo players play within the state only.
The council is also working this week on zoning the Laredo area for industrial use. The area is being considered for both a proposed casino and a proposed ethanol plant.
Houle said the study over a possible new casino will take a few months.
The assumption, Houle said, has always been that Rocky Boy is too remote to draw a lot of people to a casino. But studies done in past years have found that Rocky Boy could support a larger casino because of the traffic that comes through the area on U.S. highways 2 and 87.
The tribe will ask consultants to look at the possibility of a 150-machine site, but also look into added attractions, like a water slide, recreational vehicle park or golf course.
"They'll start small. You don't come and build a Trump Mahal the first year," Houle said.
Jim Swan, executive director of RJS, said compacting with the state for Class III casino games would be possible step in planning a new casino project.
Class III gaming includes slot machines, blackjack, craps and roulette.
"There's been some discussions ... but I have no idea where the governor stands on that," Swan said. "Down the line that would be an ideal situation."