Northern Arapaho Tribe proposes gaming operation to help fund K-12 education in Wyoming

Wyoming lawmakers are considering a proposal from the Northern Arapaho Tribe to develop gaming operations on state-owned school trust land in order to bolster funding for K-12 education.

The idea was submitted in response to a statewide request for K-12 funding solutions, which were reviewed this month during a Joint Revenue Committee meeting in Casper.

Lease agreement

Stephen Fast Horse, co-chair of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, said the land lease arrangement would include a revenue-sharing element ensuring that 75 percent or more of net revenues from the gaming operation would go to “individuals and entities located within the state.”

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“(The) revenue sharing agreement, as well as the school trust land lease payments, would benefit state K-12 funding accounts,” he said.

In addition, Fast Horse continued, “carefully constructed gaming facilities would provide positive and direct economic impact to local communities where they are located,” and “having an experienced entity like the Northern Arapaho Tribe lease the land and operate the facilities would ensure net profits would remain in Wyoming and be used for Tribal services.”

“We have no doubt these funds will be circulated throughout Fremont County and the entire state, giving an additional economic impact for Wyoming,” he said.

Wyoming Rep. Pat Sweeney, R-Casper, called it an “excellent and really thought-provoking proposal.”

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“(It’s) very intriguing and a great interest to me as a really good source of possible revenue,” Sweeney said, asking whether any “state rules or regulations” would have to be changed to facilitate the idea.

Clare Johnson, in-house council for the Northern Arapaho Tribe, said legislation would be required to give the state the authority to pursue the proposal.

Revenue

Indian gaming operations generated $39 billion in revenue nationwide last year, Johnson pointed out.

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She wasn’t sure how many of those facilities were located on state-owned lands, however.

“Most of the time, (the Tribes) purchase the land,” she said. “(But) we’re actually not looking to take land into trust. …

“We’re actually asking to be a vendor in the State of Wyoming and to have the Legislature address this and make it so we can participate the same way any other citizens would.”

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It might be a “unique and new model,” she said – “but it actually works most to the benefit of the state.”

“Not only would the state of Wyoming be deriving tax revenue and a revenue share – they’d be getting lease revenue off leasing the parcels,” Johnson said.

Working group

Wyoming Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, who was leading the meeting, said he would “like to learn more” about the Tribe’s proposal.

He appointed a working group of four committee members to explore the idea further, including himself; Wyoming Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson; Wyoming Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne; and Wyoming Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston.

He also reminded the committee that the state had solicited the K-12 funding ideas because Wyoming’s education system is currently “the most volatile government service we have, as far as revenue streams.”

“We fund education with property taxes, (and) in Wyoming … most of the property taxes are paid by minerals,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is diversify those (funding streams).”

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