Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - The possibility of new federal restrictions on Indian gaming has caused planners of a casino in the Laredo area to scale back the project. The casino, hotel and truck stop venture will get under way in the spring of 2006, but with a casino about half the size of what was originally planned, organizers said last week.
Rocky Boy tribal council members will travel to Helena on Tuesday to propose a gaming agreement with the state that would allow the tribe to avoid new federal gaming restrictions. Federal restrictions apply where there is no state agreement.
The tribe is still working with NORAM, a Florida-based casino developing firm, to build the casino, said Keith Wallace, director of operations for NORAM.
NORAM and the tribe decided to build a $9 million casino, rather than the $13 million one originally proposed, with half the floor space planned. The number of gaming machines will remain unchanged.
”NORAM is still by the tribe in moving forward,“ Wallace said last week.
The three phases were to cost between $18 million and $20 million, with NORAM providing the startup capital, to be repaid in a profit-share agreement. Wallace said that agreement has not changed aside from changes to the casino.
”The functions we're taking out are not as profitable as the machines,“ Wallace told the tribal council last week. Revised plans include the removal of offices and club space. Those might be added later during the construction of the 65-unit hotel or truck stop planned for the area.
”The expansion would be dictated by the amount of revenue the casino produces,“ Wallace said.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who is chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, has said he intends to propose increased restrictions on Indian Class II gaming, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported last month.
About 300 Class II electronic bingo machines and 50 Class III poker and keno machines are planned for the casino at Laredo. Plans also include the possible addition of off-track betting.
Wallace said that if new restrictions are put in place, they may not take effect immediately and could be circumvented by a tribal agreement with the state. They also could be fought in court, he said.
”We, as your partner, would be willing to bring all the muscle we can,“ Wallace told the council.
Tribal leaders said they would expect to fight the proposed new federal law as well as push for a new agreement with the state.
Council member Brian ”Kelly“ Eagleman said the tribe hopes for an agreement that would allow it several hundred Class II electronic bingo games per facility, as well as expanded numbers of Class III, casino-style machines.
Bob Swan, Chippewa Cree Community Development Corp. director, said the state currently allows the tribe Class III machines with a maximum payout of $1,000. Other tribes in the state are allowed maximum payouts of $1,500, and he said he'd like to see Rocky Boy's agreement mirror those.
Council member Raymond ”Jake“ Parker said the council, along with its attorney, will meet with staff from Gov. Brian Schweitzer's office Tuesday for a ”preliminary negotiation“ of a new gaming agreement.
State offices were closed today for Columbus Day and officials could not be reached for comment.
The revised casino plans mean a delay of several months in groundbreaking. Swan had said he hoped workers would be able to start this month.
The delay until spring means developers will know more about any new federal legislation before work begins, Wallace said.
”We're not losing as much time as it looks like,“ Swan said. ”As everyone knows, building in the winter in Montana is not profitable.“
Doug Morley of the Bozeman firm Springer Group Architects was on hand last week to answer questions about the casino's design. Springer Group designed the log-style college buildings at Stone Child College that community members have praised for fitting in with the landscape.
At a meeting Thursday for prospective construction workers and building partners, one community member, Daryl Wright, was concerned about the appearance of the proposed casino.
Morley said he would follow the same principle used in designing the college. He said he hopes to include local influences in every element of the building, down to the carpets, if possible.
”It's going to be an appealing-looking building and it's going to look like a casino,“ Swan said at that meeting.