GROVE - Grove officials will wait until Friday to formulate their position regarding a tribal request to put its property into trust.
Grove residents, voicing concerns of opening a door to a moral decline, used words like “addiction,” “increased crime,” “tax revenue loss” and “poor family values” as they implored council members to withhold their support of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe's request to put 30 acres of undeveloped property in to tribal trust.
A tribal spokesman said the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe, headquartered in Grove, is committed to being good stewards and will do its part to be a good neighbor to the lake-side community.
About 200 people attended a public hearing held Tuesday - an effort set forth by the council to “feel the pulse of the community” before issuing a recommendation to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The council has until Jan. 20 to answer a series of questions posed by the BIA - a federal agency that will ultimately decide if the tribe will be allowed to enter the 30-acre tract of land into trust.
Council members made no decision Tuesday, but did approve the drafting of a letter of response to the bureau. The document will be reviewed by the council at a special meeting set for 10 a.m. Friday.
In all, 19 residents and business owners, along with Seneca-Cayuga Chief Paul Spicer, addressed those attending the hearing. Sixteen spoke against the casino, while four spoke in favor of the project.
Darrel Mastin, spokesperson for the citizens' group No Casinos In Grove, said that the group studied the effects of casinos on communities and found that, while they do tend to financially benefit depressed areas, they do not have any noticeable positive effect on fiscally thriving communities.
Mastin stressed that communities which allow casinos to be built in their midst undergo undesirable changes that cannot be quantified in dollar amounts.
Pastor Larry Ward of Grand Lake Baptist Church agreed, noting the casino would be built within 300 feet of his church. He has concerns the the casino will bring elevated incidents of suicide, divorce and crime.
Conversely, a non-tribal employee of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe's Grand Lake Casino said her life has improved immeasurably as a result of her job. She said she now has enough money to help her children and grandchildren and that she has insurance she would not have had otherwise.
A spokesperson from the Cowskin Fire Department, which serves the area surrounding the Grand Lake Casino on Oklahoma Highway 10 north of Grove, said that the tribe has never offered funds to his department. He also noted that, although Cowskin responds to an average of 36 medical emergencies, accidents and other incidents at the casino yearly, he has yet to see the Seneca-Cayuga Fire Department respond to any of those incidents.
In a statement following the hearing, Spicer answered those allegations by saying that the tribe only has a fire truck, not an ambulance.
“We have responded to fires in the rural Grove area,” said Spicer, adding that the Seneca-Cayuga Fire Department is “still in its infancy.”
Spicer said the department responded to a recent engine fire in the Grand Lake Casino, but that it was the only fire the casino has had.
He added that increased crime rates and moral issues associated with casinos are “misconceptions.”
“I don't know of any bad effects (of casinos) on communities,” he said.
According to Spicer, the tribe has donated $30,000 to Grove Public Schools for an after-school program, as well as building a new building and providing an after-school program for the Turkey Ford school.
He said the tribe plans to buy a pumper truck large enough to battle a fire in the proposed five-story hotel - making the truck available for use within Grove - and would contribute money to the community “in lieu of taxes.”
Spicer said the tribe supports the drafting of inter-local agreements that will allow the tribe to make its emergency resources available to the residents of Grove.
“It's good to have meetings like this,” Spicer said. “It reminds me that there are people who have different opinions.”
The chief said the tribe's is committed to being good citizens and expressed his confidence that the tribe's efforts will spur economic development and bring added growth to the lake-area community.
The proposed casino, to be built in two phases, will initially bring a $60 million investment to the city and bring about 450 new jobs to Grove.
After the public portion of the meeting, city council members Larry Parham, Gary Trippensee and Mike Davenport said they were thankful that so many people had come out to share their thoughts on the casino. Council member Terry Ryan declined to comment.
Mayor Gary Bishop said “My experience with casinos has been less than fulfilling,” Bishop said.”They have made many unfulfilled promises.”
Bishop said that, when he has asked tribal members if they could guarantee the promises they had made about what the city would received if the casino is built, he was told “there are no guarantees in life.”
“People have asked why I don't want prosperity for Grove,” Bishop said. “My idea of prosperity is for all citizens to enjoy the fullness of life - economically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually - not for people to make money at the expense of others.
“A few people win at casinos, but at the cost of a lot of losers. There is no doubt that this casino would put more money in the city's coffers, but at what cost?”
City Manager Bruce Johnson reminded citizens that they can respond to BIA individually.
“The city is not a mutually exclusive conduit for comments to BIA,” he said. “Comments can be sent directly to the BIA.”
In addition, comments may be sent to Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry.