Wyoming Tribe Denies Creating Secretive Body Opposing Slots Regulation, Sacked Lobbyist Claims Its Lying

Posted on: July 2, 2019, 06:21h. 

Last updated on: August 4, 2019, 11:31h.

The Northern Arahapo tribe was behind a shadowy organization that sought to nix a legislative effort to create a gaming commission in Wyoming, according to disclosure reports filed Monday with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office.

Northern Arapaho
The Wind River Hotel & Casino claims it is not behind a political campaign group that opposed the creation of a gaming commission in Wyoming and employed a level of secrecy that would be illegal in many states. (Image: Indianz.com)

But the tribe says it wasn’t and is blaming an allegedly rogue lobbyist, The Caspar Star-Tribune reports.

Wyoming is not just America’s least populous state, it’s also a state that is currently completely unpopulated by gambling regulators — and it’s likely to stay that way, for now, at least.

A bid to regulate the state’s 400 gambling machines, which have sprung up at bars, gas stations, and truck stops, thanks to a patchwork regulatory environment and lazy enforcement, failed last week when a bill supporting the creation of a regulatory body was shot down by lawmakers in the Cowboy State.

State-licensed commercial gambling is extremely restricted in Wyoming, beyond a smattering of betting on horse and dog racing. But the illegal machines are generating an estimated $4 million per year in revenues that are going untaxed — a biggish deal for state with a population of under 600,000.

Campaign Group Mystery

Wyoming does have four tribal casinos, however. One of these is the Wind River Hotel and Casino, whose operator, the Northern Arapaho, funded a group called the Wyoming Public Policy Center, according to the newly publicized filings.

The group lobbied hard against the proposed regulation and launched a blitz of digital, multi-platform advertising, which included a signature-gathering campaign against the bill, according to The Star-Tribune.

The paper’s reporters have been trying to figure out who was behind the group for some time, noting that it had hidden itself “behind a wall of anonymous business filings in multiple jurisdictions,” affording it a level of secrecy that would be illegal in many states, which have stricter corporate filing laws.

But when presented with the facts on Monday, the Northern Arapaho played innocent, claiming it had been “duped” by a lobbyist, Mark Howell. A spokesman for the tribe, alleged Howell had set up the body without its knowledge. Tribal officials fired Howell on Monday.

“Upon learning of this, the Council took immediate action to terminate Mr. Howell’s contract with the Tribe,” it said in an official statement. “We are currently conducting an internal review to determine the extent of the transgressions of Mr. Howell and anyone else who may have been involved.

“The Northern Arapaho Business Council is committed to transparency and accountability,” it added. “We’ve notified the National Indian Gaming Commission of this matter, and we will fully cooperate with all regulators and proper authorities to ensure the long-term protection and success of the Northern Arapaho Tribe.”

‘Bring on the Feds’

But Howell tells a different story. He told The Star-Tribune that the tribe was fully aware of his activities and that Tribal Chairman Lee Spoonhunter had fully approved the Wyoming Policy Center campaign during a meeting in December.

Howell said Spoonhunter told him personally that the legalization of Vegas-style slots would cost the tribe’s operations “upward of $14 million in lost revenues.”

The National Indian Gaming Association is an independent federal regulatory agency that operates within the Department of the Interior and Howell said he would welcome its intervention.

“I am prepared to fully cooperate with any federal investigators,” Howell said. “I will assure anyone who says the business council did not authorize this will be in violation of criminal conduct under the U.S. code. They will be lying to a federal investigator. They can lie to you, but they can’t lie to federal investigators. That’s when it’s going to come out.”