Over the last several months, controversy has escalated over management of the Wind River Hotel and Casino, anti-regulation lobbying efforts and legal represenation. The controversy now includes leadership changes at the casino, changes in legal representation, a canceled consulting contract and two lawsuits.
Now, additional information has come to light following a Monday article from the Casper Star-Tribune which claims that the Northern Arapaho Business Council was fully aware of, approved and funded efforts by an organization called the Wyoming Public Policy Center to derail legislation in Wyoming’s 2019 Legislative Session which would have expanded gaming in Wyoming. A claim, the majority of the Council denies.
The public-facing portion of the issues began in late May of this year when the NABC announced that Jim Conrad, Casino CEO would not have his contract renewed. A statement from NABC Chaiman Lee Spoonhunter cited a need to restore accountability and protect the sovereignty of the Northern Arapaho Tribe. The Council vote on this decision was reportedly not unanimous.
Then shortly after, in early June, the Tribe dropped its relationship with Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd, PC, the law firm that had represented the tribe. The Council retained Kilpatrick, Townsend and Stockton, LLP to provide legal services. The official statement about the change was not signed by Council Co-Chairman Anthony Addison or Councilman Samuel Dresser.
In early July, the NABC terminated lobbyist Mark Howell following his and the Tribe’s connection to and the Wyoming Public Policy Center becoming public knowledge. The WPPC lists only one current issue on their website: opposition to legislation regarding the “expansion of gambling across the state.” A press release stated that “the majority of the Council…had no prior knowledge of the WPPC and purported use of tribal monies in its funding.” This release did not include Addison or Dresser in the list of Council Members that it says “had no prior knowledge of the WPPC.”
In late July, the NABC filed suit against Baldwin, Crocker and Rudd, alleging a lack of transparency and accountability in the firm’s dealings with the Tribe.
Then on Friday, August, 2nd, another lawsuit was filed, this time by Addison and Dresser with former casino HR Manager Rosella Morin and former casino CFO Faith Wallowing Bull against the Tribe’s new law firm Kilpatrick, Townsend and Stockton. According to a different Casper Start-Tribune article on Monday, the suit accuses the new firm of “orchestrating a hostile takeover of tribal and gaming affairs, as well as firing employees who either questioned orders they believed to be illegal or reported complaints about the tribe’s chairman, Lee Spoonhunter.”
The Star-Tribune article related to NABC knowledge of WPPC lays out memos, emails, and texts which they claim show the NABC approved of creating the WPPC and provided funding for it. This includes communication with the whole Council, despite the July statement that certain members had no knowledge of the organization.
The article also quotes a release from NABC spokesman Matthew Benson: “As we have consistently said, the majority of the Northern Arapaho Business Council…had no prior knowledge of the Wyoming Public Policy Center (“WPPC”) and it’s purported use of tribal funds.”