Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - The Bear Paw Casino will bring in record revenue this year, but managers will also face closer scrutiny as the Chippewa-Cree tribe works on expanding gaming on the reservation.
National Indian Gaming Commission investigators visited Rocky Boy last week to discuss past problems and future plans.
The Bear Paw Casino will gross about $1.3 million this year, up about $500,000, putting it in a different category for regulation by the National Indian Gaming Commission, Chippewa Cree Community Development Corp. financial manager Bob Swan said last week.
The tribal council recently announced a plan to build a 350-machine casino and 65-room hotel near U.S. Highway 87 by Jan. 1. It has entered into a preliminary agreement with a Florida gaming developer to finance the project.
The tribally owned development corporation took over management of the Bear Paw Casino in January. The addition of Rocket Bingo games, which allow players to compete via Internet with players elsewhere, as well as other changes in management have improved the casino's profits, he said.
Swan has entered into an agreement with the tribe to oversee the new casino project as well, he told the investigators last week. A professional manager will be hired to run the casino, he said.
"There's a lot of progress being made," tribal council chairman John "Chance" Houle said last week.
The effort has met some resistance from some reservation residents, he said.
"Maybe there's some negative people out there that don't like the way we're going," Houle said. He added that he attributes the negative feelings to the speed with which the council has been pursuing its plans.
Houle said he thought it was possible that somebody who was opposed to the tribe's plans may have called in the investigators. Yet Houle said he wasglad they came.
The investigators' visit was a follow-up to an earlier audit that revealed some problems, a gaming commission spokesman said last week.
Problems included some safety violations and a need for better monitoring of the machines' logs, investigators told Swan and Houle in a meeting Thursday.
Every type of machine has a theoretical payout and an actual payout. That data needs to be monitored to make sure the machine is functioning properly, the investigators said.
Swan said the company that supplies the Bear Paw Casino machines had not given him information on the theoretical payouts of all the machines but that he would get that information from them. Swan does keep information on all the machines' payouts and history that he shared with the investigators.
Swan said the safety issues were taken care of. He said an exit sign was ordered for one of the casino doors, a new cage was added to the area where money is held and he plans to have some old tile replaced this summer, all according to the commission's recommendations made a few months ago.
Field investigator Jim McKee also said the tribe needs to submit quarterly reports and produce a written policy about the operation of the casino now that it grosses more than $1 million.
Swan said he is finishing working on those written policies and he would be sure to submit quarterly reports.
Once a casino grosses $1.5 million, the quarterly reports are accompanied by fees, McKee said.
Investigators also wanted to discuss the tribe's plan to build a new casino at Laredo, the commission wrote in a letter to the tribe that was sent before the investigators arrived last week.
McKee told Swan and Houle Thursday that he wanted to see a signed contract between the tribe and Swan that included Swan's duties.
One thing the investigators wanted to know about was the role of the community development corporation in managing the casino, corporation vice chair Bert Corcoran said Wednesday after meeting with the investigators.
"They said it was a new twist and they were asking deeper questions about it but it appeared that it's meeting all their regulations," Corcoran said.
Investigators also wanted to see a copy of the contract between Swan and the tribe, council member Russell "Rusty" Gopher said Wednesday.
Gaming commission spokesman Shawn Pensoneau said investigators often want to see such contracts to be sure they meet the commission's regulations. The National Indian Gaming Commission is an independent federal entity formed to oversee all tribal gaming. It has the right to investigate tribal gaming operations and close those that do not comply with all applicable laws.
"The gaming commission would look at the contract, the individual or the company, to ensure the tribe is going to be the beneficiary of the gaming revenues and the management contract doesn't exceed a certain percent," Pensoneau said.
The manager is not allowed to charge more than 30 percent of the profits.
The rule is in place, Pensoneau said, to keep tribes from being taken advantage of by outside developers and managers.