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02-26-03: Help sought in fighting Botkins casino
The Daily Standard

    WAPAKONETA - A group of Botkins-area citizens is trying to rally area governments to formally oppose a Native American-owned casino that could land in the Shelby County village.
    Auglaize County Commissioners heard the latest pitch on Tuesday from Dave Hemmert and Linda Christman. Both are Auglaize County residents who live in rural Pusheta Township near the Shelby County line, just a couple of miles from Botkins.
    Commissioners John Bergman and Hugh Core were noncommittal on whether they would accommodate the request. They said they wanted to first discuss the issue in a group setting with Commissioner Ivo Kramer, who recently underwent knee replacement surgery and did not attend Tuesday's meeting.
    Hemmert and Christman said they fear the way of life in the Botkins community will be forever changed if casino gambling comes to town.       News of a possible casino-based development along I-75 in the village first surfaced in November 2002.
    Village officials and representatives of the developers have since confirmed they are considering such a project. The entertainment complex would initially be anchored by a video bingo hall < with an eye toward casino gambling in the future. Hotels, restaurants, an Indian cultural center, water park, golf facility and concert hall all are part of a $550 million investment plan that developers say would create 4,000 jobs at the 300-acre site.
    Hemmert asked commissioners to contact Botkins Village Council members to let them know how they feel about the proposal.
    "Six village councilmen have the ability to decide if our way of life changes," Hemmert said. "They see it as an entertainment facility. We see it as level three gambling with all the problems it brings."
    Hemmert and Christman mentioned a number of concerns they have about the proposed casino. Compulsive gambling, crime, traffic and other social ills were listed. The money the village presumably would reap from the project would not be worth the new problems, they said.
    The duo also questioned whether the project is as innocuous as it sounds. Bingo is listed as the only gaming available initially, but development representatives have admitted they plan to pursue higher forms of gambling.
    Level three casino gambling is against Ohio law but could feasibly come to fruition if an Indian tribe gains federal recognition in Ohio and signs a deal with the governor. Many people believe gambling could not be increased as long as Gov. Bob Taft, a gambling opponent, is in office.
    But that is not necessarily the case, Hemmert said. Federal regulations take precedence over state law, he said. The federal Department of the Interior could order Taft to "negotiate in good faith," he said.
    Christman said the issue is being pushed by a private developer, not an Indian tribe.
    "The developer sought the Indians. They are using the Indians to circumvent the law," Christman said.
    Hemmert and Christman also bemoaned the secrecy that has shrouded the project. California-based National Capital I (NCI) has not been a front line player so far. Efforts by media members and residents to reach someone at the company have been unsuccessful.
    Instead, NCI is being represented by Tom Schnippel, a Botkins construction contractor who is serving as the local project manager, and Terry Casey, a consultant and lobbyist.
    Schnippel's involvement makes the issue somewhat sticky, Hemmert said. Schnippel is well-connected in the village and many people know each other or are related, he said. In fact, Schnippel's wife is related to Hemmert.
    Commissioner John Bergman said he personally is against the casino project but was unsure if he would favor any local action to try to stop it.
    "It's an issue that really lies with the village of Botkins," Bergman said.
    All three commissioners will not meet together again until at least the second week of March.
    By that time, though, it could be too late for them to make any difference. Land options held by the village of Botkins expire March 13, which means the town must decide by then whether the casino development will move forward. The town would have 90 days after that to finance the land purchase.


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