How far is it from Des Moines, Iowa to St. Paul, Minn.? It is curious that
the governing institutions of two neighboring states can have such opposite
attitudes toward Indian sovereignty, at least when it comes to negotiating
Class III compacts with tribal governments.
The Meskwaki Indian Tribe and the state of Iowa have completed
government-to-government negotiations and reached agreement on a new Class
III compact governing operations of the Meskwaki Casino in Tama. Unlike
many other compact re-negotiations in the news of late, however, this one
contains no direct revenue sharing payments in the form of slot machine
According to a Jan. 7 Associated Press report, terms of the 15-year compact
include the following stipulations:
The tribe will pay $50,000 annually to the state Department of Inspections
and Appeals to cover regulatory costs;
The tribe will create an escrow account into which it will deposit $100,000
to cover expenses incurred by the Attorney General, Department of Public
Safety and other state agencies;
The tribe will make an annual contribution of $50,000 toward treatment of
The tribe agreed to negotiate in good faith with local governments for the
provision of police and fire protection, road maintenance and other
The tribe will recognize all court-ordered collections against its
employees for things like tax liability and child custody payments; and
All future building or remodeling will be in compliance with international
building, fire, mechanical and plumbing codes.
Along with the compact renegotiation comes a planned expansion of the
Meskwaki Casino, which has been in operation since 1992 and currently
offers bingo, table games and some 1,400 slots. Plans include a hotel
expansion, a new convention center and other amenities, while the casino
itself could double in size.
The new Iowa-Meskwaki compact shows that revenue "sharing" is by no means
mandatory in a Class III gaming agreement. It reveals as well other ways in
which both state and tribe might benefit without revenue "sharing." In this
case, all regulatory costs are borne by the Meskwaki government, and
municipalities are fairly compensated, at no cost to the state, for the
expanded casino's impact on the local infrastructure. The state gets a
compact that expires and the tribe gets one of sufficient duration to
secure long-term financing. The tribe and its neighbors benefit from new
jobs and spending in the community.
The text of the Iowa-Meskwaki compact is available at
The AP report stated that: "State officials said they are prohibited by
federal law from taxing the tribal gambling business ..." While many other
states across the country seek to grab a slice of pie that IGRA never said
they could have, Iowa shows significant respect for tribal sovereignty.
Iowa recognizes that IGRA's main purpose is, first and foremost, to support
tribal and reservation-based economic development. Whatever ancillary
benefits spill over into non-Indian territory, so much the better.
"The relationship between the state of Iowa and the Sac and Fox Tribe of
the Mississippi in Iowa rests on mutual trust and the recognition that each
has a primary duty to protect both the gaming public and the integrity of
gaming," said Steven Young, director of Iowa's Department of Inspections
and Appeals, in a Jan. 6 statement.
"The approved compact respects the sovereign status of the tribe and
recognizes the principal goal of federal policy to promote tribal economic
development, tribal self-sufficiency and strong tribal government. Tribal
Chairman Homer Bear Jr. and I firmly believe that this compact is mutually
beneficial to the state of Iowa and tribal members," Young concluded.
"And now," as the British comedy troupe Monty Python often used to say
between skits, "for something completely different."
245 MILES UP INTERSTATE 35
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's relentless quest for $350 million in
Indian gaming revenue has been well chronicled in this space. Thus far, his
threat of commercial gaming competition for Minnesota's tribes has not come
to fruition and most of those tribes have resisted his calls to
"voluntarily" renegotiate their compacts.
Pawlenty's latest proposal was chronicled in the Jan. 15 edition of the
Mesabi Daily News, which reported on a recent meeting between the governor
and representatives of the White Earth, Red Lake and Leech Lake bands of
Chippewa. All three tribes are located in the remote northern reaches of
Minnesota, which has rendered their prospects for gaming success almost
nil. Together they comprise almost four-fifths of the state's Indian
population; unemployment on their three reservations ranges from 30 - 64
percent, according to the Daily News.
The governor proposes that a casino/hotel be built in the metropolitan Twin
Cities area. The facility would be wholly owned and operated by the tribes,
who would retain 75 percent of the casino's revenue, with the other 25
percent earmarked for the state. The tribes would also be responsible for
part of the construction costs. Pawlenty has said that Minnesota's other
eight tribes are welcome to join the project, though there will likely be
Short and sweet, here's why this plan stinks: It's a raw deal for the three
According to the Daily News, tribal estimates put revenue from the proposed
casino at $280 million annually, while Pawlenty says it will generate $350
million. (There it is again - that $350 million! That's the number he
magically pulled out of his hat to represent the so-called "fair share" he
last year wanted to extract from Minnesota's gaming tribes in "voluntary"
revenue sharing payments.)
But revenue estimates are not the issue here - they're only guesses. Under
the 75 - 25 split, each of the four partners gets an equal slice of the
pie, which would not be a problem if each had an equal entitlement to that
pie. Minnesota has no such entitlement.
Through IGRA, Congress created the Indian gaming industry to fund tribal
government operations and services, and to provide the means for
reservation-based economic development. The absence of revenue sharing
provisions in the original legislation would lend credence to the belief
that Congressional intent was that IGRA was not a device that a state might
use to pad (or bail out) its general fund. Minnesota is not entitled to a
share equal to that of any tribal partner in any casino operation. Period.
In the unlikely event that this deal ever becomes reality, Minnesota's 11
existing casinos would "share" no revenue. How ironic would it be for the
state's poorest tribes to have Pawlenty's hand in their pockets as he talks
about wanting to "help" them?