‘We need to press forward’: Lawmakers pursuing Northern Arapaho gaming proposal to help fund K-12 schools

State lawmakers continued to discuss a proposal from the Northern Arapaho Tribe this month to develop Class III gaming on state-owned school trust land in order to generate new revenue for K-12 public education.

The proposal was submitted in response to a statewide request for K-12 funding strategies from the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee, which was asked to “solicit and investigate ideas for sustainable, long-term revenue sources for K-12 education” this year by the legislature’s 2022 Management Council.

“The directive was to try to look for new revenue sources of $50 million per year or more,” Wyoming Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said. “So, (we’re) looking at some maybe really large ideas.”

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Northern Arapaho Business Council representative Travis McNiven said “one or two” Class III gaming locations “would certainly meet the committee’s desired goal.”

He described four “significant ways” the proposal would raise revenue for K-12 funding in Wyoming:
-Revenues from leasing state-owned school trust land
-Revenues from the gaming operations
-Indirect revenues from increased tourism and employment
-Revenues to the Northern Arapaho Tribe – a Wyoming-based entity

“The revenue (that goes to the Tribe) would certainly stay in Wyoming, and central Wyoming – Fremont and Natrona counties – would certainly see a great deal of that revenue be spent … instead of the project owners’ revenues leaving the state,” McNiven said. “By working with the Northern Arapaho Business Council … all of that would stay in the state (and) be turned over in Wyoming’s economy as well through all those funds staying in the state and then being spent on additional projects and businesses.”

He noted that the gaming facilities would fall “under all state authority” and would be “completely separate” from the Tribe’s current operations on the Wind River Indian Reservation, which are regulated by the National Indian Gaming Commission under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

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“This would have nothing to do with IGRA,” McNiven said. “It would be under the Wyoming Gaming Commission just like any other entity that the state would work with to provide … gaming in a Class III facility. (It’s) a pure commercial partnership.”

Location

Wyoming Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, said he was “very enthused about this possibility of being able to raise (these) kinds of funds.”

“This has the potential of taking these school trust lands (that) are typically only getting grazing fees right now and turning it into substantial income for the state – for schools in particular,” he said. “Something beneficial could really come out of this, and we need to press forward. … I’m hopeful that we might be able to do something this year to get (this) started.”

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Pappas was part of the working group the Revenue Committee appointed to explore the gaming proposal this fall, and he said that group spent “an entire meeting discussion locations” for a potential facility in Wyoming.

He suggested the operation should be located somewhere that is “close to population centers outside of the state” – like Salt Lake City or the Front Range of Colorado – though he added that local jurisdictions should be consulted during that decision-making process.

McNiven said the NABC has hired a third party to review potential locations, and they also recommended focusing on “out-of-state populations,” as well as tourists and people traveling through Wyoming.

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Workforce housing

Wyoming Rep. Pat Sweeney, R-Casper, mentioned the need for workforce housing to be built in conjunction with the proposed gaming operations.

“No matter where … they build, (that) would be critical,” he said.

Discussions haven’t gotten “that far down the road,” McNiven said, but he agreed that workforce housing “needs to be addressed (with) any construction of this magnitude.”

The Revenue Committee did not consider any legislation this month that would accommodate Class III gaming leases on state-owned school trust land in Wyoming, but Pappas anticipated that a bill would be ready for introduction during the upcoming legislative session, which convenes Jan. 10.

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