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Gaming revenue big issue for Minnesota governor

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota gaming tribes have fought off a barrage of
threats by the Minnesota governor who wants money from the tribes to help
balance the state budget, but the tribes now have some allies.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has courted Las Vegas gaming interests,
offered three northern Minnesota tribes access to the metropolitan market
and has threatened to push the state into casino-style gambling by opening
a horse race track at Shakopee to slot machines and card tables.

The race track is near the huge Mystic Lake Casino owned by the Shakopee
Mdewakanton Community at Prior Lake.

The most interesting unofficial proposal would be to invite a Las Vegas
firm to open a casino at the Mall of America. That would juxtapose casino
gambling and family entertainment like Camp Snoop, an indoor amusement park
and that upsets local lawmakers of Bloomington, Minn., where the mall is
located.

Bloomington City Council officials are opposed to a casino plan, and in
2002 went on record in opposition. A caveat to that opposition was that if
it was inevitable the city would like the best possible deal.

Tribes located near the Twin Cities, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe that owns
Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Grand Casino Hinckley; Prairie Island Sioux
Community, owners of Treasure Island and the Shakopee are all opposed to
any expansion of gambling owned by or organized by the state.

Las Vegas investors tried unsuccessfully to gain legislative approval for a
casino at the mall; legislators were not interested in presenting a bill to
allow for the casino.

In February public meetings took place in Bloomington to discuss
possibilities of the casino even though an official proposal has not been
drawn up.

Pawlenty told tribal leaders in private sessions that he would not approve
a casino to be built in any community that opposed it.

Pawlenty met with the Ghermazian brothers, 50 percent owners of the Mall of
America at their mall and casino operation in Edmonton, Alberta in
December. Pawlenty has also met with three northern Minnesota tribes about
putting their names on a metropolitan casino. He met with the Leech Lake
Band, White Earth and Red Lake bands of Chippewa to discuss a casino idea.

At a press conference Pawlenty said no commitments or decisions had been
made but there was a commitment to further review any ideas on an
"expedited basis."

The three northern tribes reside in a remote area of Minnesota, each has a
casino, but tribal members still suffer from low income levels. The latest
data show that tribal members are 40 percent below the mean statewide
average income.

A bill presented in last year's legislature, the Indian Gaming Equity Act,
would have allowed for a casino at the Mall of America, and was supported
by the three northern tribes.

Irma Vizenor, chairwoman of White Earth said Pawlenty discussed ideas that
were within the Equity Act proposal. The White Earth tribal council was to
consider Pawlenty's proposals and respond to the governor.

A new player in the gaming fray is the city of St. Paul, although not
official or widely supported. St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly has made no secret
of the fact that he would welcome new revenue streams for the capital city
by tapping into gaming money.

A location for a casino next to the city's convention center, RiverCentre,
would be feasible, according to some city officials. A feasibility study is
now under way for a hotel that would attach to RiverCentre.

The city council, however, is not on the same page with the mayor. City
council members said that any casino proposal would meet with a resounding
"no" vote.

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA) is opposed to any expansion
of gaming in the state, and it has gone on record at opposing any
additional revenue for the state. Most gaming tribes have given generously
to the communities near their casinos and have contributed hundreds of
thousands of dollars to state charitable organizations.

Compacts between the state and the tribes were written without an
expiration date, and according to MIGA, the compacts give the tribes
exclusive right to slot machines and casino-type gaming.

In Pawlenty's discussions with the tribes, he has offered exclusive rights
to slot machines; something the tribes claim they already have.