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Lordstown Eyes Casino
SOURCE: The Plain Dealer
Tom Breckenridge
February 28 2005

The Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma will be in Lordstown this morning to announce its fourth proposed casino in Ohio, amid mounting skepticism from gambling opponents.

The tribe, which announced plans last week for a $100 million lakefront casino resort in Lorain, says it has an option on a 130-acre site off the Ohio Turnpike that could develop into a $300 million resort.

The land is just west of the General Motors Corp. assembly plant and would be expected to draw gamblers from Ohio and Pennsylvania. The site is a one-hour drive from Pittsburgh and Cleveland, said Lordstown Mayor Michael Chaffee.

The site could generate up to 3,000 jobs, about $450,000 in income tax for Lordstown and $4.5 million in revenue for the village, its schools and Trumbull County, officials said.

Chaffee, Trumbull County commissioners and Eastern Shawnee representatives will announce the project at 11 a.m. today at Trumbull County commissioners' offices in Warren.

They're not likely to dwell on the daunting obstacles to their plan. Casino gambling is illegal in Ohio, and no other tribe in the country has left its current home state to open a casino elsewhere.

The Eastern Shawnee are a 2,300-member tribe based in western Oklahoma, where the tribe moved from Ohio. Although the Eastern Shawnee have historic roots in Ohio, the tribe has no federally recognized land in Ohio on which to build a casino.

The Shawnee have proposed casinos in Monroe, on land along Interstate 75 between Cincinnati and Dayton, and near Botkins, off I-75 between Dayton and Toledo.

The tribe would need to place land in trust with the U.S. Department of Interior, an arduous process, as well as gain approval from the governor and state legislature, to operate Las Vegas-style casinos in Ohio.

Anti-gambling opponent David Zanotti says the tribe needs more than that - it needs a statewide vote to amend the Ohio Constitution to allow so-called Class III gambling, including slot machines, craps and roulette. Statewide votes to allow casino gambling have failed twice since 1990.

"The Eastern Shawnee have no legal right to enter into any gambling agreements," Zanotti said in a prepared statement this week.

But the tribe believes it has several legal tacks to avoid a statewide vote. One argument is that because Ohio already has some forms of Class III gambling, including horse racing and the lottery, all forms should be legal.

Part of the tribe's strategy is to sign land options at six or more sites for casinos and then dangle the state's potential cut of that money - hundreds of millions of dollars - before state leaders grappling with a big budget deficit.

Eastern Shawnee spokesman Terry Casey said the tribe is also talking with some racetrack owners and Cleveland officials about a gambling "package" that would benefit all parties. He would not elaborate.

Lordstown would benefit from having 2,000 slot machines at the Ohio Turnpike site, as well as a hotel, restaurants, retail business and possibly a water park.

Chaffee said Lordstown's casino revenue could be used to lay sewer lines through much of the village, which has lots of undeveloped land.

Trumbull County officials pursued the tribe aggressively. County Administrator Tony Carson said he contacted Casey four months ago, and officials laid out seven potential sites for a tribal casino.

Carson would like to see ground broken for the project in 18 months, despite the regulatory hurdles.

"I'm confident they can do it," Carson said. "They are investing big money here. To those who are opposed, I would say, 'What have you done to bring 3,000 jobs to Trumbull County?' "