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|11-08-02: Botkins bets on gambling
to spur development?
|By TIMOTHY COX
The Daily Standard
BOTKINS - Las Vegas. Atlantic City. Botkins. Botkins?
Village officials may be involved in some sort of talks regarding the
possibility of siting a Native American-owned casino in the village.
Acting on a tip to the newsroom, The Daily Standard this week
investigated claims that the village is trying to become home to Ohio's first such casino
operation. Based on talk on the street and the cryptic statements of some village
officials, there appears to be some substance to the gossip.
Some village officials have refused to confirm or deny the reports. In
some cases, though, their silence spoke volumes.
When asked specifically about the prospect of a Native American-owned
casino landing in town, Village Administrator Mike Vanbrocklin did not hesitate to answer.
"What we do in general, with economic development projects, is not
to comment," he said. "It's pretty commonplace in any situation that any client
is going to want confidentiality."
Treasurer Ed Brown admitted that he has been asked about the issue by
several village residents, but would offer no more, referring further questions to
Vanbrocklin. When asked if he could refute the casino-talk as false, Brown said he could
The village has a 50-acre undeveloped industrial park with utilities
extended to the site and a new street stubbed onto the land. The property is on the south
edge of town between I-75 and County Road 25A. Vanbrocklin said the town currently is not
negotiating the sale of any part of the property.
But a former village council member, who requested anonymity, said the
vacancy of the industrial park is exactly the reason officials are considering the unique
Findlay Industries, the town's largest employer, has closed factories
in other places and moved production to Mexico. Local officials worry the same could
happen in Botkins and with dim prospects for traditional industrial development, they are
willing to get creative to bring in new jobs and tax revenue, he said.
However, current village council member Steve Woodruff, contacted by
telephone Thursday evening, dismissed the story as a "coffee shop rumor."
Woodruff, who claims to be 1/16 Cherokee himself, said he knows of no efforts by Native
Americans to put a casino in Botkins.
When told that Vanbrocklin and Brown would not deny the story, Woodruff
stood his ground.
"I've only been on council since May, but unless there is
something I'm not aware of, I don't think there is anything to this," Woodruff said.
Woodruff is the only council member who could be reached this week,
despite numerous attempts.
Mayor James King also was reached Thursday evening and asked to speak
on the issue.
"There is a lot of gossip going around. But at the same time, we
have a lot of businesses looking at our park and some other ground we hold options
on," King said. "Many times we don't even know the origins of those companies
and when we do, the companies ask us not to comment."
When asked if he would support a casino as a way to create jobs and
bring in additional tax revenue, King said he would leave those decisions to Vanbrocklin,
who heads the town's economic development efforts.
When the newspaper attempted to delve deeper into the investigation, it
met with resistance from the village. A request for copies of council meeting minutes from
the last three months of meetings could not be honored at the village hall on Thursday
because those records are not kept there, The Daily Standard was told by a village
The meeting minutes apparently are maintained at the home and insurance
agency office of Brown. But when asked for the records, Brown said he first had to consult
with the village's legal counsel. Brown said in 21 years in office, he has never been
asked for copies of meeting minutes and wanted to ensure they are public records. The
newspaper finally received the documents early today.
The meeting minutes show the town is in the midst of making
modifications to its existing enterprise zone. That could be a sign village officials are
anticipating possible development and a tax abatement request. Council also has met twice
in recent months in executive session to discuss a potential land acquisition and last
month authorized Vanbrocklin to sign an option agreement on a piece of property.
Details of those issues were unavailable this morning.
Botkins is a village of about 1,200 that lies just inside Shelby County
south of Wapakoneta. Ohio 219 meets I-75 on the east edge of town.
There were only a few whispers of the casino story on the street
Thursday. Several people approached at local businesses by a reporter said they knew
nothing about the matter. A couple of them said they had heard rumors the village was
looking to lure a Native American casino, but were unwilling to discuss the matter
It is unclear whether Indian gaming is legal in Ohio. The state has no
such casinos now, although there have been attempts in recent years to develop them in
Native Americans are permitted to operate gambling facilities under the
1988 Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act, but only in states that have equivalent forms of
legalized gambling. Ohio has a state lottery and horse racing tracks, but does not have
any legal form of Las Vegas-style gaming.
There are conflicting reports and opinions on whether Ohio's limited
gaming options would allow Native Americans to exercise their rights under the federal
regulations to open a casino. To run a full-blown casino operation with traditional Vegas
table games, an Indian group would have to sign a tribal-state gaming pact with the state.
Ohio officials have never inked such an agreement for gambling purposes.
The federal regulatory act breaks gaming into three classes. Class I
gaming would involve any traditional or ceremonial form of gambling that a tribe would
typically engage in. There are no restrictions on this type of
Class II gaming would include bingo and pull-tab games that are illegal
in Ohio except when run for charity.
Class III gaming is slot machines, table games and other traditional
casino fare. Native Americans need a pact with the state to run Class III gaming.
The act also says that Indian gaming establishments can only be
operated on "trust land," which is land reserved for and owned by Indians but
held in trust by the federal government for the benefit of Indian owners. There apparently
are ways to get land previously held by a private owner declared federal trust land, but a
records check at the Shelby County Tax Map Office revealed nothing unusual among the
owners of land around Botkins and surrounding Dinsmore Township. All of the property along
the I-75 corridor near the village's industrial park is locally owned; much of it is
To get land accepted into the federal trust program for gaming
purposes, a tribe must get the approval of the secretary of the U.S. Department of the
Interior. It is the secretary's duty to decide if gaming on the newly acquired lands would
be in the best interest of the Indian tribe and its members, and whether it would be
detrimental to the surrounding community. The state's governor also must concur with the
interior secretary's decision for the request to be approved.
Ohio Roundtable, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy education and
research organization, has argued against the expansion of gambling in the state for
years. In a letter to state legislators last spring < just as officials were debating
whether to allow video slot machines at the state's race tracks and whether to join a
multi-state lottery < Ohio Roundtable President David Zanotti warned against expansion
of existing gaming laws.
"Most lawmakers are barely aware of the Indian Gaming and
Regulatory Act," he wrote. "The gambling industry understands and utilizes that
statute in an aggressive strategy to expand gambling ... One thing is certain, tribal
gambling concerns and their allies in the gambling industry are using every tool to expand
legal definitions and land claims to open new casinos."
Joining the Big Game or Powerball multi-state lotteries could open the
door to Class III Indian gaming, he wrote. Since Zanotti wrote his letter, the state did
join the Big Game.
A group called Casino for the Mahoning Valley has tried and failed to
get Gov. Bob Taft to sign a state-tribal gaming pact that would allow an Indian casino to
be opened in the Youngstown area. In a letter also written while state lawmakers were
looking at expanded gambling to meet a budget shortfall, committee coordinator Patrick
MacKondy wished them luck in the efforts.
"Expanded gambling in Ohio would help our state immensely,"
MacKondy wrote, adding that Taft has ignored "thousands of letters, e-mails, faxes
and phone calls from thousands of casino supporters in the Mahoning Valley."
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