CONCHO — A shift in political power has led the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes to drop ties to PokerTribes.com, a multimillion dollar website that could have paved the way for online gambling in Oklahoma.
Incoming Gov. Eddie Hamilton, whose official capacity is in dispute while the tribe struggles with a divided government, recently replaced several high-ranking casino personnel and an attorney general who were involved in PokerTribes.com. The tribe paid $9.5 million for the website, which isn't currently active.
He also directed attorney Richard Grellner to stop pursuing a lawsuit seeking approval to operate the site. Grellner filed the lawsuit Dec. 26 in federal court in Oklahoma City against the U.S. Department of Interior; court records show it's pending.
Based in Concho, the tribe of 12,000 people operates four casinos, including Lucky Star Casino, which has locations in Concho and Clinton.
Changes in leadership
In a letter to tribal members and published in The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune, Hamilton said management changes include the departure of Lucky Star's chief executive officer, chief operating officer and two others, as well as an attorney general for the tribe who facilitated the PokerTribes contract.
Hamilton said the changes were not related to the website but instead represent a “shift in business and tribal strategy and philosophy.”
He vows in the letter to better handle money belonging to the tribe, which has been plagued with financial troubles in recent years. “We have put a stop to wasteful spending of our tribal monies. We will be evaluating the best way to use resources such as lobbyists, lawyers, advertising companies and entertainment groups,” Hamilton wrote.
And despite spending millions on the PokerTribes website, the tribe is abandoning the project.
“The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes are not affiliated with or pursuing any partnership with PokerTribes.com. With regard to the $9.5 million investment made by the previous administration, we are exploring our options with our leadership team, tribal council and legal advisers,” he wrote.
Did politics pull the plug?
Isaias Almira, managing director of Universal Entertainment Group, which created the site, said having the tribe drop the project could damage his firm's credibility, not to mention waste millions of dollars.
“We spent close to $40 million on this project. The Cheyenne and Arapahos spent close to $10 million on this project. And due to the political agenda taking office, they are destroying everything. It just doesn't make sense,” he said.
The money was used to pay employees to create the complicated software required to run the site. Source codes had to be written in many languages to support international players. The domain name PokerTribes.com was expensive due to its popularity, he said. And a server hosting facility was built inside Lucky Star Casino at a cost of $500,000.
The tribe is now threatening to sue his company, Almira said — something Hamilton hinted at in his statement.
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