- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 21, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is facing a budget shortfall of nearly $6 million due to declining revenue at its casino.

Tribal leaders say a slowing economy and a snowy winter contributed to losses at the Prairie Knights Casino. Also, the closure of the casino’s main access road due to the oil pipeline protest hurt the facility’s bottom line.

“It’s like it’s fallen off a cliff,” said tribal financial officer Jerome Long Bottom. “When the bridge was shut off, the numbers just plummeted.”

Long Bottom said the tribe will face some tough choices in the months ahead on what to fund. The casino’s turnaround depends on how quickly Highway 1806 is reopened and how long it takes to entice customers to return, The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/2m7SXFU) reported.

“I don’t know how bad the perception is,” Long Bottom said, unsure how closely people associate controversy over the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline with the casino.

Concert and visitor attendance at the casino are down over the past several months, general manager E.J. Iron Eyes said.

“I’m looking for things to improve as we move into summer,” Iron Eyes said.

Iron Eyes is launching a public relations campaign to draw customers back to the casino. He emphasizes the pipeline protests were not the only problem.

Iron Eyes said the casino usually serves an older demographic coming from surrounding North Dakota cities, including Bismarck-Mandan, Jamestown and Minot. There is a hotel, gambling casino and monthly country and rock concerts. Daily buses from the Bismarck-Mandan area and surrounding towns ferry residents for a day at the slots.

But in December, casino regulars found themselves mingling with a new mix of guests from across the U.S. who traveled to Standing Rock to protest the four-state pipeline. Opponents fear the $3.8 billion pipeline threatens the environment and sacred sites. Dallas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners disputes those claims.

The casino funds programs within each of the reservation’s eight districts: insurance and bonding; heating assistance; food distribution; programs for the elderly and veterans; health programs, such as for those with diabetes and addictions; fire and ambulance services; solid waste, water and sewer; as well as K-12 education and the Head Start program, said Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II. The casino employs 350 people, about 60 percent of which are from Standing Rock.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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