CHANDLER, Okla. (KFOR) — The Iowa Nation is looking to build a new hotel and casino by 2026, but the Chairman says ongoing compact issues have delayed construction by years.
The Ioway Casino has played a role in the Chandler community since 2013.
The tribe now wants to pack it up and move directly across the street from the Ioway Casino.
The plan is to build a 100,000 square foot resort filled with “thousands of games, slot machines, and table games.”
The land the new casino would sit on is owned by the Iowa Nation.
Iowa Nation Chairman, Jacob Keyes, told KFOR the plan is to begin construction in April 2024 and have the casino open by mid-2026.
The Iowa Nation would fully fund the new casino and hotel, said Keyes.
With such a big vision comes a wrench of a problem. Right now, to get to the Ioway Casino, guests have to take a five mile detour off the Turner Turnpike and through Wellston.
“That makes it a little bit of a hassle,” stated Keyes.
Keyes said the initial idea was to construct an exit ramp off the Turner Turnpike, which would have be fully funded by the Iowa Nation.
However, the Governor’s office shot down that idea in 2019, according to Keyes. He said the pandemic also hindered construction.
“That was the point in time when we started having issues with the governor over the gaming compacts,” added Keyes. “We were basically told that we couldn’t do that project for the exit without signing a new compact. Any ideas of gaming compacts he’s presented are completely off the table for us. We have absolutely no interest in the structure of the compacts he’s put out there. It’s not good for our tribe or really any of the other tribes.”
Governor Kevin Stitt’s proposed version of the tribal gaming compact would increase exclusivity fees from 6% to 13%. The 2004 Model Gaming Compact set the 6% fee in place.
“It’s difficult for me to understand how a 13% exclusivity fee is a bad deal. We’re unsure what exclusivity fees would be agreeable to the Iowa Tribe, but we can surely all agree that all Oklahomans are benfitted by higher fees that go to public services such as education and mental health services,” said the Governor’s Communications Director, Abegail Cave.
Only two tribes—the United Keetoowah Band (UKB) and Kialegee Tribal Town (KTT)—have signed Gov. Stitt’s new compact.
The Senate Joint Tribal Relations Committee rejected both compacts in October though, citing “significant fatal flaws.”
The Oklahoma Supreme Court have also previously shot down the two compacts in 2020 for circumventing the legislative process.
“We know this isn’t a completely unreasonable proposal,” stated Cave. “I’d answer you with a question that the legislature and joint committee should consider – why should the Iowa Tribe be permitted to build a casino that is just as close to the metro area as the proposed UKB casino that they denied last month? If the Iowa Tribe’s casino is permissible, then there is no reason that the joint committee should have voted against the UKB’s casino. I bet with more digging, you’ll find that it wasn’t about the casino locations at all.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat’s Communications Director, Alex Gerszewski, told KFOR, “The issue at hand has nothing to do with UKB and KTT compacts that were previously deemed invalid by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Joint Committee on Tribal Relations exists to approve or disapprove agreements between the state and sub-state entities with tribal nations.”
The Pro Tem has not heard of, or received any inquiries related to the Iowa Nation’s struggle to build a Turner Turnpike exit, according to Gerszewski.
Because there is no turnpike exit feeding directly into the parking lot, Keyes said it’ll slow down foot traffic and revenue, which puts a pause on hotel construction for now.
“We want to be responsible financially, make sure we can do something we can afford,” explained Keyes. “We’ll figure it out. We have a lot of good relationships within the state other than the governor’s office, so we’ll figure out. Luckily, we do have Route 66, so that’s why we’re going to go ahead and build it anyways. It definitely would be a lot easier for people to come in off the turnpike.”
Keyes doesn’t have high hopes for the conversations moving forward with the Governor’s office, but said the Iowa Nation will keep trying.
“The ability to negotiate with the governor on anything is just not really there. I would say it’s not a relationship at all really. We do have good allies in the legislature, so we are able to communicate with some key players. We’re pretty hopeful that a lot of these issues will be put to bed,” said Keyes.
Cave said the last time the Governor’s office heard from the Iowa Tribe on the topic of the turnpike exit was 2022.
“We’d be happy to restart those conversations,” added Cave.