Ohiya Casino will cut the ribbon its new facility on Friday.
NEAR NIOBRARA, Neb. (KTIV) -
After years of legal battles with the state of Nebraska, some members of a Siouxland Indian tribe thought they'd never build a brand new casino. Friday, the Santee Sioux tribe's Ohiya Casino will celebrate the grand opening of its new facility.
Thelma Thomas is proud of these murals inside the new Santee Ohiya Casino. It's one of many new additions in this new $20 million facility.
"Everything is much bigger, everything is beautiful, everything is brand new," said Thomas.
But casino officials wondered if they'd get to see customers again.
That's because the tribe was mired in a costly legal battle with the state of Nebraska. State officials said the casino's "Vegas-style" machines were illegal. The tribe replaced them with "bingo-style" machines. Still, the state objected. And, the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Stopping all of our accounts, and charging us so many thousands a day for keeping it open, but we kept on going because we felt that our sovereignty was non-negotiable," said Rick Thomas, tribal historic preservation officer for Santee Sioux Nation.
The high court dismissed the case. In 2011, the tribe began building a new casino just down the highway. It has more of everything, like games and 61,000 square feet of space.
"To be able to walk in here, the atmosphere, the color and the noise, it just kind of makes a person feel proud," said Rick Thomas.
Not only will the casino have double the number of many games as the old venue, but Thomas is most excited about the fact that more than twice as many employees are going to be working here.
"We were two months ago running 40 employees, now we're running 90," said Thelma Thomas.
Tom Goodteacher got one of those new jobs. He's excited for full-time employment again, after spending months without work.
"You get paid. That's nice. And you get to meet a lot of people from out of state and all that," said Goodteacher.
The multi-million dollar payroll includes many tribal members, but they're also drawing folks from inside the county, and beyond, to work the 24 hour operation.
"Folks are driving across the bridge for employment here. So, the Santee Sioux has made great economic impact for two states," said Thelma Thomas.
Officials are optimistic this new casino will create more growth in the area, for projects like apartments and businesses along Highway 12. The casino itself could see some expansion in the future, which could include an 18-hole golf course, and mini golf.
"I think the casino business will be the hub of all businesses," said Thelma Thomas.
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