The Ponca Tribe has started the process to open a nearly $10 million casino.

The casino, planned for the intersection of U.S. 177 and U.S. 60, will be larger and in a better location than the tribe’s current casino off U.S. 177 inside the tribal town of White Eagle, Chairman Dwight Buffalo Head said.

“We’re trying to become less and less dependent on federal dollars,” Buffalo Head said. “Right now, we’re just in a bad location. We’re trying to make ourselves more accessible to the public.”

The new casino also is expected to employ more than 100 people compared with about 70 at the old site, Blue Star Casino, said Carter Camp, administrative assistant for the tribe.

The tribe hired Merit Management of Chicago to conduct a feasibility study which determined the best location to be at the intersection of the two highways on the northern boundary of tribal land and just south of Ponca City.

Leaders still need to negotiate leasing or buying the land from tribe members, Camp said.

Through the agreement, Merit Management will provide funds to construct the casino and will manage it for five years. During that time, the company will take 30 percent of profits and train Ponca members to take over. After five years, the tribe will run the casino and take all profits to supplement tribal programs, Camp said.

Leaders are unsure how much the casino will earn, but are excited about its prospects, Camp said. The old casino is the main source of nonfederal income, earing about $700,000 to $1 million annually for the tribe of about 2,500.

“We think it will be a big economic boom for us,” Camp said. “We’re going to be able to supplement people’s needs.”

Tribal members are scheduled to talk at a meeting Saturday about how to allocate profits, Camp said, and the tribe will hold a contest to decide the name of the new casino.

Camp said he planned to submit paperwork this week for approval for extended gaming from the state and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ office of gaming management. A state law passed in November allows tribes to offer extended gaming, such as blackjack and poker.

Several other tribes throughout the state are already offering extended gaming or are planning to do so.

“We have to build to compete,” Camp said.

The tribe hasn’t decided on the size yet, but the goal is to have more games available and other entertainment options such as a restaurant within the casino, Camp said.

Other planned features are a gas station, retail businesses, and an RV park, Camp said.

He said the tribe may start work in 90 to 120 days.

Leaders haven’t decided the future of the old casino, Buffalo Head said. The tribe may keep it open as a bingo hall or close it.

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