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Construction to begin on Red Lake casino

Border town expansion plans expected to boost tribal enterprises

RED LAKE, Minn. - The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians will soon begin construction on its new $20 million Seven Clans Casino Red Lake, restaurant and hotel about 15 miles from the humanities center where it began a decade ago, planners said.

Tribal officials hope several banks will offer bids to loan the tribe money for the new casino that's scheduled to open Sept. 1, 2009, said Raymond J. Brenny, COO for Red Lake Gaming Enterprises Inc. Financing bids for the casino were due July 11.

The casino construction will be funded by a ''straight fixed-term mortgage by borrowing from a bank.''

''Revenues it would generate would easily pay mortgage payment and have excess cash flow,'' said Brenny, who declined to release detailed financial information.

The new Seven Clans Casino Red Lake is expected to compete with the Palace Casino and Hotel in Cass Lake, which is operated by the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe just south of Bemidji.

''From an economic point, it makes sense and from a business point it makes sense,'' Brenny said. ''We will be targeting the Bemidji market and the new casino will be closer to that highly populated area.''

Once the financing is complete, the tribe will issue a request for proposals so bids will be submitted for the prime contractor that will build the casino, hotel and restaurant.

The pre-construction site preparation contract was awarded to Northern Engineering & Consulting of Bemidji, an American Indian contractor. Brenny declined to release the amount that Northern Engineering bid.

Construction is expected to start in August with plans to have the complex enclosed before the snow flies and winter construction will continue on the inside.

On July 24, a computer rendition with a 360-degree view of the new casino will be shown at the Red Lake Gaming offices by DSGW Architects of Duluth.

''You will be able to walk in and do a virtual tour,'' said Brenny, adding that the casino will move into its new facilities in August 2009, followed by a soft opening and a grand opening.

The new casino will be located just east of Minnesota State Highway 89 near some small lakes on the south reservation boundary.

Excluding the parking lot, the complex will be 65,840 square feet but won't be as large as the tribe's casino in Thief River Falls. The Red Lake operation is the tribe's third ''Seven Clans Casino''; however, the other two are not on the reservation. The Thief River Falls casino, hotel and indoor waterpark is located about 75 miles to the west, and the Warroad Casino is about 120 miles northwest and four miles from the Canadian border.

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''We are hoping to draw more people to northwest Minnesota,'' said Red Lake Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. ''We're one of the northernmost tribes and we are remote.''

The tribe wants the casino and hotel to attract people visiting the border town of Bemidji, which has huge expansion plans. A $20 million regional events center that's under construction will feature a 4,000-seat arena for hockey and other sports and have an annual economic impact of $13 million. A new convention facility and hotel are also planned in Bemidji.

''There is a huge push there for expansion in Bemidji and we're trying to draw more of those people to the reservation,'' Jourdain said.

Designed to be ''community-oriented and not just for gaming,'' the facility has separate entrances for the casino, restaurant, and hotel so visitors can walk through other areas of the complex without being exposed to gaming activities.

''Not everyone who comes there has to gamble,'' he said.

About 6,000 of the tribe's 10,000 members live on the reservation and about 3,300 live in the St. Paul area. The casino hotel will be convenient for tribal members who don't live on the reservation.

''Times have changed - it's not like it used to be when family members come home and relatives open their doors,'' Jourdain said.

''Many members left home in the 1950s and '60s and moved to cities for employment. Some have not been back to the reservation in 30 to 40 years and have lost touch with relatives.''

The nearest motel to Red Lake is 30 minutes away, so the new hotel is important for casino visitors and for people visiting the reservation for business, weddings, funerals, and other reasons, he said.

The Red Lake casino and hotel design includes a casino floor with 300 - 500 slot machines, a full-service restaurant seating 60, a 40-room hotel with a pool, a small convention center for banquets/meetings that will seat 300, meeting space for tribal workshops or retreats, a 375-space parking lot, a staff parking area for 100 cars and corporate office space for Red Lake Gaming. The complex will employ 168 people, an increase of 50 employees.

The main entrance resembles a longhouse, Brenny said. Entertainment will be hired for the banquet area; however, the tribe has not decided to what extent, he said, adding that a bingo hall for the casino is under consideration.

The old casino ''provided lots of employment - 100 percent of the employees are members of the tribe or family members,'' he said.

Comprised of tribal council members and hereditary chiefs, the 18-member Red Lake Gaming Enterprises Inc. board of directors unanimously approved the casino move and expansion May 29, Brenny said.

''The gaming board did not take the decision lightly,'' seeking input and approval from Red Lake members through community meetings in all Red Lake reservation communities (Red Lake, Ponemah, Little Rock and Redby), Brenny said.