Skip to main content

Let the games begin; A five-state roundup of Indian gaming news

This week we'll take a look at some important developments related to
Indian gaming in both the Midwest and New England.

MINNESOTA

In a reversal of its previous position, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe will
join two other Minnesota tribes in their quest for an Indian-owned casino
near the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The tribe, whose
reservation lies in the northern part of the state, will partner with two
other northern tribes, the Red Lake Nation and the White Earth Reservation,
to purse a casino in the more populous suburbs of the capital and the
state's largest city.

According to the Grand Forks Herald, a previous proposal for such a casino
would generate $90 million for the state and $65 million to each of the two
participant tribes (White Earth and Red Lake). Another $120 million would
be earmarked for the state lottery and promotional costs.

In a Sept. 16 statement, Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty praised the Leech
Lake decision.

"Since last January, my administration has been working to forge a new
economic relationship between the state and the Native American tribes,"
Pawlenty said. "We need to recognize the dramatic growth in casino gaming
and get a better deal for the state of Minnesota. I am encouraged that
officials from three of the largest tribes in our state have indicated a
willingness to work with us on this important issue."

In January, Pawlenty announced his intention to force the state's gaming
tribes, whose current compacts carry neither an expiration date nor revenue
sharing provisions; back to the bargaining table by threatening them with
commercial competition.

The three tribes' casino prospects have been hampered by their remote
locations in the rural northern region of the state. Their only recourse in
their quest for casino-driven revenue appears to be to a Twin Cities
casino, which unfortunately plays into Pawlenty's hands.

Minnesota's 11 tribes operate 18 casinos.

NORTH DAKOTA

State lawmakers in North Dakota are considering legislation to give
themselves a role in the compacting process. According to the Associated
Press, the proposed bill is being drafted because the Legislature seeks to
gain some input in future compact negotiations.

"There is no crisis. It's more of an academic question," said Republican
State Senator Judy Lee, who requested the bill.

Indian gaming in North Dakota operates under 10-year compacts negotiated
between the state's five reservations and former Governor Ed Schafer. The
deals carry a renewal option for an additional five years. At the time, the
tribes did not have to renegotiate but sought a longer deal, allowing them
to obtain better financing to grow their casino operations.

Revenue sharing terms, if any, were not disclosed, nor were any other
characteristics of the proposed bill.

As in Minnesota, the issue of off-reservation gaming has gained attention
of late, as the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in June proposed a casino
for the Grand Forks area, which the state's other gaming tribes oppose.

IOWA

The Associated Press, on Sept. 18, reported that the Meskwaki tribe and the
state of Iowa have reached agreement on a gaming compact to succeed a
previous deal that had expired in August.

Revenue sharing provisions were not a part of the previous compact.
Officials involved in the recently-concluded negotiations declined to
reveal specific terms until the deal gained approval from the Interior
Department.

Had a new deal not been forged, the Meskwakis faced their second casino
shut down within the past 12 months. The National Indian Gaming Commission
shuttered the tribe's Tama casino in May 2003 during a tribal leadership
dispute. The casino reopened on New Year's Eve.

CONNECTICUT

On Sept. 15, Connecticut's two Indian casinos released their slot machine
revenues for the month of August. The Foxwoods Resort Casino reported
revenue of $74.6 million, with an average of 7,273 slot machines in play
for the month. The state of Connecticut's share was $18.6 million. Foxwoods
is owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.

Slot machines at Mohegan Sun Casino took in $72.4 million from an average
of 6,250 machines in play. Mohegan Sun, owned and operated by the Mohegan
Tribe, shared $18.1 million with Hartford.

The Class III compacts under which both casinos operate require their
tribal owners to "share" 25 percent of slot machine revenues with the
state.

In July, according to the Long Island daily newspaper Newsday, Mohegan Sun
enjoyed revenue of $78.4 million from 6,200 slot machines, while Foxwoods
generated $77.6 million from its 6,600 slots.

MASSACHUSETTS

The growing significance of Indian gaming revenue in many cash-strapped
states has become evident to two Massachusetts lawmakers. A pair of state
legislators there has publicly professed their belief that the Bay State
"needs casinos." In Sept. 16 op-ed piece posted on the Boston Globe's Web
site Boston.com, Representatives George N. Peterson Jr. (R) and Mark J.
Carron (D) stated that "we must examine the issue from an economic
standpoint."

The legislators point out that the Massachusetts lottery generates over
$700 million annually in aid to localities, and observe as well that "the
two tribal casinos in Connecticut provided more than 20,000 direct and
indirect jobs and contributed $368 million to the state treasury." Peterson
and Carron also note the plethora of Massachusetts-plated vehicles in the
parking lots of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. "There is clearly a demand among
Massachusetts residents for casino entertainment."

They ask two important questions.

1) "How long are we going to continue to ignore what could be our single
largest new job source while exporting what will soon be $1 billion across
our state borders?" and

2) "What principle are we standing on while we continue to lose revenue,
jobs and tourism dollars to other states and ignore an important means to
fund critical programs?"

Carron and Peterson assert that if the state supported efforts by bands of
Nipmuc and Wampanoag Indians to establish casinos (and in the case of the
Nipmucs to gain the federal recognition recently denied to them) then
"lawmakers can better negotiate revenue-sharing with the tribes."

Unlike Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, whose efforts to
torpedo Nipmuc recognition they call "inaccurate and offensive" Peterson
and Carron understand the value of respectful government-to-government
negotiations. They also realize the positive impact that Indian gaming can
have on state and local economies.