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Gaming discussions continue in Minnesota

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Benjamin asks state to partner

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Melanie Benjamin, chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band
of Ojibwe, opened the door to begin serious discussions about gaming,
business and related issues between the tribe and the state without any
discussion of revenue sharing by the state.

In a letter to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Benjamin suggested some
talking points that could benefit both the state and the tribes.
Renegotiation of the gaming compacts was not up for discussion. Also, the
tribes would not open discussions about direct revenue-based contributions
to the state.

Benjamin said she and the tribal council had discussed the issues for quite
some time and that she had looked for opportunities that could be good
business deals for the Mille Lacs Band.

In her letter, she offered some suggestions. A charitable organization,
sports betting; additional casino games or sports stadiums for the Twins or

She said there had been no discussions with the Twins or the Vikings about
new stadiums, but added that discussion about new stadiums was possible.
The state has repeatedly balked at the use of tax money to build new
stadiums for its pro sports teams.

"I look at whatever will be a good business opportunity for Mille Lacs,"
Benjamin said.

Increased political pressure, referred to as a "gun to the head" position
by John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming
Association, has been a yearly activity of the state legislature. One
legislator had 50 bills on his desk that would either open state-wide
gaming, allow for slot machines in race tracks or create the world's
largest casino at the Mall of America.

Caesars Palace, now owned by Harrah's Entertainment has been named as a
company that could open a casino at the Mall of America, which would be
near the indoor family theme park, Camp Snoopy.

In the past the state has dealt with the tribes as one entity but each of
the 11, as Benjamin pointed out in her letter, has different needs and
beliefs. That makes collective decision making very difficult.

"The Mille Lacs Band is stepping forward independently today and asking the
state to join us in meaningful discussions.

"This is the time to stop the assault on the tribes and advocate for
partnerships that help Indians and non-Indians," Benjamin said.

The state and the tribe have common concerns; health care, housing,
education, economic development and tourism, Benjamin said. She offered to
work together toward the common paths to success.

Gov. Pawlenty, in a prepared statement, did not veer too far from the hard
line he and the state have always held.

"In my state of the state address this year, I outlined a plan for a new
economic relationship between the state of Minnesota and our American
Indian tribes.

"Since that time, our administration has had discussions with the tribes in
an effort to further that goal," Pawlenty said.

McCarthy said the governor has dollars signs in his eyes, which is not even
close to reality. The state is facing a deficit and they have to come up
with the money somewhere and the tribes, as in other states, look like a
good target.

"Other tribes are willing to give up a lot, they have different
circumstances, there are some false expectations from Pawlenty.

"Pawlenty's people are very evangelical and they hate gaming. I found it
very strange that Pawlenty can put his arm around Louis Palau (an
international evangelical rally speaker) and in the next two days is
talking about gaming, threatening the tribes," McCarthy said.

"He puts a gun to the tribe's head, says he's morally opposed to gambling,
threatens the tribes with larger and more casinos and if the tribes don't
come forward he will pull the trigger.

"[Gov. Arnold] Schwarzenegger pulled a stunt out there [in California],
Pennsylvania legalized 61,000 slots and Maryland is soon to follow,"
McCarthy said.

In each case the state will benefit from the gaming revenues.

McCarthy said Benjamin's letter was not a new message. There have been
discussions. What the letter does is bring reality to the talks. Even with
that in mind Speaker of the House Steve Sviggums continued to complain that
American Indians pay no taxes and the governor continued to emphasize
revenue sharing.

Benjamin said that past attempts by the state to negotiate has left the
tribal leaders hardened and created an environment of mistrust. She
suggested that "If left unresolved, that hostility will continue to spread
among the populace of the state, including tribal members, causing cultural
misunderstandings that could divide our state for generations."

A good public relations campaign to explain the tribe's position and what
their contributions to the state already consists of is necessary, Benjamin

She said that the charitable organization would be a clearing house, and
would also inform the state residents what contribution the tribes are
already making. As an example the Shakopee Dakota Tribe, owners of Mystic
Lake Casino and Resort, has contributed more than $10 million over the past
10 years to other tribes, statewide charitable organizations and local

Benjamin also offered to enter new compact agreements that would allow for
casino games that are not included in the existing compacts: Simulcast
horse racing and dog racing.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe own Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Grand Casino

Officials of the two sports teams, the Vikings and the Twins said that no
discussion with Mille Lacs had taken place. Jerry Bell, president of the
Minnesota Twins organization said his group thought linking gambling with
the stadium was controversial. However, Mike Kelly, executive director of
the Vikings, said he would be ready to talk to anyone that could solve the
stadium issue.

Gov. Pawlenty said there were other issues that took higher priority for
discussions than the stadium issue.

"We may be victims of our own success. The missing link in the past
negotiations is the fact that these are governments. Tribal people know
what they are doing, not like the big conglomerates," McCarthy said. He
mentioned the fact that Harrah's was the defendant in a lawsuit in
Louisiana and that since they know regulations they would get by with as
little regulation as they can.

At stake are 14,000 jobs statewide in the 18 casinos owned by the tribes.
Benjamin said her tribe estimated that with overall statewide gaming and a
large urban casino in the Twin Cities, they would lose 40 percent of their
revenue, which translates into lost jobs in the rural areas.

The Bois Forte Band of Chippewa on Lake Vermillion in northern Minnesota is
expanding their Fortune Bay Casino and resort company with a new golf
course and future plans for resort expansion to buffer the loss of revenue
should statewide gaming occur. Tribal officials estimate that their loss
could be about 60 percent.

"In some ways a state insisting on funds from a tribe is similar to a
country demanding foreign aid from another country," Benjamin said.

She did add the caveat that if the state approached the tribes in a spirit
of partnership and joint venture instead of ultimatums solutions may be
found to the issues.

Certain contingencies to any negotiations include no compromise of
sovereignty by the tribes. The existing compacts, which have no expiration
date, are not up for or renegotiation. Gaming revenues used to meet basic
tribal needs cannot be reduced and any partnership with the state must be
mutually beneficial to the Mille Lacs Band and the state.