The first of two hearings called by Governor Dennis Daugaard to allow interested persons to state their views regarding proposed amendments to the Class Three gaming compact between the State of South Dakota and The Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe was held this morning at the event center in Watertown. Representing the tribe at the Watertown hearing was attorney Greg Paulson, Paulson, who is one of two attorneys representing the tribe, went over amendments requested for the current gaming compact between the tribe and state. He began saying that in 22 years prior to 2012 the tribe had a zero percent increase in the number of slot machines. That number was static at 250, the lowest number of machines allowed at casinos in the country. During that same time frame South Dakota’s video lottery terminals increased by 267 percent. Terminals at Deadwood increased more than 300 percent. It was in 2012 that the state agreed to authorize the increase of 500 slot machines at the Indian casinos making way for the tribe to increase the slots to 750. In addition, from present year through 2022 the tribe would be allowed an additional 20 slot machines per year.
It had been projected in 2012 that future payments to the counties and city could be reliably based on an increase in the number of machines and gaming revenues that would offset any increased in police and fire calls and road wear. That, Paulson said, didn’t happen.
Paulson said the tribe had projected a nine million dollar increase in gaming revenues with a 250 slot machine increase, but again that didn’t materialize.
As a result the tribe’s need for fire, police and road services hasn’t increased either. Paulson said no one projected there would be an actual decrease in gaming revenues after the casinos increased the number of slot machines.
He says the tribe is now actively looking at providing its own police, fire and ambulance services in the future, which could also cause the tribe to readjust the amount paid to Codington and Roberts counties and the city of Watertown. And as far as roads go?
Paulson said, rather than using a fee structure paid on a gaming compact, that it would be better based on the number of slot machines in use at the casinos. He explained how the Memorandum Of Agreement would play out.
Codington County Commission Chairman Myron Johnson began on a positive note saying the Dakota Sioux Casino has been an asset for the community and they want to see it remain successful. However, he added that the county has upheld it’s end of the deal and that it’s important the tribe does the same.
Johnson said its tough to run a business if you are expecting x amount of dollars and you don’t get them. He says that’s what’s happening with the dollars payable to Codington County. He says when the tribe doesn't honor their agreements that it makes it difficult for the county to budget. Johnson says that, as of yesterday, Codington County hadn't received the second half of this year’s payment. That, he said, is raising a red flag. He said they’re not opposed to more slot machines, but only want what the county is owed in the original compact.
Watertown Mayor Sarah Caron echoed Johnson’s remarks saying the Casino is a big asset for the community with a hotel and restaurant. She said the city is happy to provide fire and ambulance services to the casino that are state-of-art, but that the casino needs to pay a fair share for those services.
A second hearing was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. at the Sisseton City Hall. No decisions are being made at the hearings.