Thlopthlocco Tribal Town in Okemah is hit with federal violation over casino
BY SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Saturday, January 19, 2013
1/19/13 at 7:36 AM
OKEMAH - The National Indian Gaming Commission has issued a notice of violation to the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town for allegedly allowing two Georgia companies to operate its casino for years without a management contract.
The absence of a management contract for the tribe's Golden Pony Casino in Okemah would be a violation of Indian Gaming Regulatory Act policies that are designed to shield the tribe from organized crime and other corrupting influences, the National Indian Gaming Commission said in the notice, which was issued in August.
The notice is addressed to the tribal town and its town king, George Scott, and Gaming Commission Chairman Alan Scott; as well as to the Titan Network LLC and Mercury Gaming Group LLC, both of Atlanta, and company representatives Anthony DeMartino Jr., Michael Gavenchak, Doug Pattison and Adelino Vazquez.
Marc Murphy, an attorney representing Titan and Mercury, said they have notified the National Indian Gaming Commission of their intentions to appeal and that they are in negotiations with the commission to settle the issue.
Murphy said Titan and Mercury were acting as consultants to the tribe at all times and that accusations that the companies were managing the casino without the approval of the tribe's business committee are not true.
"If you were to speak to members of the tribe who would allegedly be victims, they would say they couldn't be happier with the advice and consultation they gave them," Murphy said. "The tribe made money as a result of this very good advice they gave them."
The alleged violations are for the time period from September 2005 to December 2010 and could result in civil fines of up to $25,000 a day per violation against the operator or the tribe.
The commission maintains that Titan was much more than a consultant when it worked for the tribe. It asserts that Titan has had direct control over hiring and firing and management of the budget, advertising and promotions, vendor negotiations and contracts, human resources, cash systems, and training, with little direction from the tribe's Business Committee or its general manager.
Records show that the tribe approved a six-month consulting agreement with Titan on Jan. 15, 2005, in which Titan would be paid $15,000 a month.
Three days before the agreement was to expire, Titan asked for more direct involvement with casino operations, including greater access to its systems and staff, records show.
According to the commission, Enus Wilson, the tribe's general manager in 2005, complained to a commission investigator that Titan was being paid for recommendations he had already given to the tribe's Business Committee.
Wilson resigned after the tribe extended its consulting agreement with Titan, increasing its compensation to $50,000 a month, the commission said.
After Wilson left, Mercury CEO Doug Pattison recommended that the tribe hire his former employee, Joe Cavilla, as the tribe's new general manager, according to the commission.
The tribe's Business Committee allegedly did not advertise the position and hired Cavilla in October 2005. The commission said this caused concern and that Cavilla was fired about a year later but was later rehired as a slot machine expert.
Scott allegedly told the commission that Cavilla was the tribe's only general manager who demonstrated expertise in understanding cash flow, financial statements and other casino activities.
"From the Town King Scott's point of view, the casino was successful when the general managers followed what Titan recommended," the commission said in the notice.
The tribe promoted Darin Price to general manager in August 2006. Records show that Price complained that Titan was double-billing the tribe and alleged that two of the tribe's Business Committee members had accepted gifts from Titan. He was fired around April 2008, records show.
According to the commission, Titan representative Alelino Vazquez told Titan's president, Michael Gavenchak, and chief executive officer, Anthony DeMartino, that Price had "gone bad" by trying to convince the tribe's Business Committee that Titan wasn't necessary.
"In response, Gavenchak instructed Vazquez to get Price fired. Within three weeks, the (Business Committee) fired Price," the commission reported.
The commission expressed concerns to the tribe in July 2006 that Titan was "exerting management" over the casino and advised the parties to reassess their relationship in an effort to address the commission's concerns.
The tribe responded in August 2006, insisting that Titan was not engaged in any management activities but was only making recommendations to the tribe's Business Committee and did not have decision-making authority.
But the commission reviewed Titan's monthly reports and concluded that Titan and Mercury were managing the casino and "did not recommend so much as decide what needed to be done and then do it."
Murphy said his clients are being victimized by the internal politics of the tribe and its Business Committee.
"They have active enemies. It's my opinion that these enemies of Titan are at the heart of these complaints," Murphy said.
The Thlopthlocco Tribal Town is a federally recognized tribe and has been gaming on trust property at the Interstate 40 location since the early 1990s.
Scott did not return phone calls Friday.
Rough pronunciation for Thlopthlocco: Rop-roc-co
The name of this Creek tribal town is said to be difficult for English speakers to pronounce. The sound of the "thl" is usually spelled with an "r" in the Muscogee language and is pronounced in English by placing the tongue halfway between the "th" position and the "l" position.
Source: Oklahoma Historical Society
Original Print Headline: Tribal town hit with federal violation
Susan Hylton 918-581-8381
The Thlopthlocco Creek Tribal Town Golden Pony Casino in Okemah is seen here. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/ Tulsa World
A sign advertises the Thlopthlocco Creek Tribal Town Golden Pony Casino in Okemah. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/ Tulsa World