By Timothy Cox
A Native American group looking to bring casino gambling to Ohio -- including to the village of Botkins -- might try to claim a large tract of Ohio land outright if Gov. Bob Taft and other officials don't deal with them fairly.
But Terry Casey, a Columbus consultant representing the Shawnee tribe considering Ohio as its next gambling outpost, said the Indians would only try to claim ownership of the land as a last resort.
"That isn't our thrust," Casey told The Daily Standard this week. "The main thing is, under federal law, they have to verify ties to an area. Historically, they have to show ownership or cases where the land was taken from them."
The Indian group is looking at opening five to seven sites throughout the state, including one on the edge of Botkins. The group has kept a tight lid on other prospective sites but have admitted their plans in Botkins since a November 2002 article in The Daily Standard broke news of the project. They've also acknowledged plans to develop in Middletown.
The group is within about five months of completing its extensive planning, at which time they will seek state approval, Casey said. If state officials refuse to work with the tribe, the Indians could appeal directly to the U.S. Department of Interior to gain approval, or could file a lawsuit seeking the return of more than 1.2 million acres allegedly taken from the Shawnee. If the Department of Interior intervenes, the state would lose any chance at sharing in the revenue from casinos, Casey said. As it stands now, state and local governments would reap millions of dollars in new revenue if they broker agreements with the tribe and help bring the plan to fruition.
Much of the land in question lies between the Little Miami and Great Miami rivers and runs between the Ohio River in Cincinnati to the Bellefontaine area. Part of the land was allegedly granted illegally by President George Washington to a man named Symmes. Other land in the tract was forcibly taken from the Indians, Casey said.
The tribe also claims ties to two other smaller tracts of land in Ohio.
"We've spent a lot of money on some of the best lawyers ... who are looking at what's real and what's not real. These are legitimate claims," Casey said.
There is little Ohioans can do to stop the tribe from pursuing its plans, Casey claims.
"When you talk to the experts, in my view, it's inevitable," that Indian casinos will open in Ohio.
Ohio and Texas are considered the last great untapped markets for Indian gaming, Casey said. Pennsylvania joined the gambling fray this week after its state Legislature approved slot machines in 14 locations throughout the state.
Casinos are now open in Detroit and Chicago. Indiana and Kentucky now allow riverboat gambling. All told, Ohioans spend $14 billion out of state through various forms of gambling. Not only would Indian casinos capture some of that lost revenue, they also would create thousands of jobs statewide, Casey said.
As originally proposed, the Botkins site would be home to a 300-acre resort, including a casino and other development. The $550 million investment would create up to 4,000 jobs. The population of Botkins is only about 1,200.
The Oklahoma-based Shawnee tribe are no strangers to big investment, Casey said. The group runs other gaming operations, banks and other holdings.
"They are focused on big things and doing them well," Casey said.