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Minnesota and Tribes at Odds Over Gaming

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Attacks on Indian gaming and sovereignty are reaching a
fever pitch.

Attempts to force to the state's gaming tribes to contribute to the state's
bank account under threats of video slot machine prohibition and
renegotiation of compacts surfaced of late. To counter those legislative
measures, 2,000 people recently protested at the state capitol in St. Paul.

The legislative action that would have outlawed video slot machines and
forced the tribes into renegotiation of gaming compacts has been withdrawn,
for now. Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud tabled his version after he
realized there was not enough votes to carry it through the process. The
Senate version, introduced by Tom Neuville, R-Northfield, is still active,
but his staff said he realizes it will never get a vote in committee.

This latest attack on Indian gaming by Knoblach and Neuville would have
affected some 30,000 jobs. The bill called for prohibition of video slots
if the tribes did not come to the table and renegotiate the compacts, agree
to a 15 or 20 year time limit and put a percentage of revenue in the state
coffers.

Rep. Nora Slawik, Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, Maplewood said
it's all about greed. "They are using gaming money to take away budget
deficits. When the legislators look for money they use gaming to fill holes
in the budget.

"The fact is that jobs would be taken away, and that's wrong."

Knoblach said the bill was meant to trigger the renegotiation of the
compacts and that the employers were "misleading" the employees about
losing their jobs.

Even though these latest two bills are dead, for now, there are others
sitting in the wings that will bring competition to Indian gaming. The
racino bill, which would place video slots at Canterbury Downs race track
just up the road from Mystic Lake Casino, owned by the Shakopee Mdewakanton
Sioux at Prior Lake, manages to stay somewhat alive as an option for state
revenue. The racino is supported by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The continued onslaught of casino talk is more than a ploy to gain revenue
for a state that has shown large deficits. It's an attack on American
Indian tribal government. William Hardaker, attorney for the Shakopee
Sioux, said the legislators were asking the tribes to set aside
sovereignty, which he added was not an economic issue.

Minnesota was one of the first states to negotiate gaming compacts under
the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Many states and tribes placed a time
limit on the compacts, but Minnesota tribes acquired no limit compacts.

Even though the newest bills are somewhat out of the picture, they are
still available to be attached as riders to other legislation, Neuville's
staff spokesperson said.

What Neuville and Knoblach had attempted to do was to preserve the monopoly
on gaming for the tribes, review the compacts every 15 or 20 years and have
the tribes pay for the regulation and inspection, and to contribute money
to address gambling's social costs and to share revenues with other tribes.

Neuville wondered aloud why the tribes couldn't contribute anything to pay
for the cost of gambling.

But the tribes have made contributions. The Shakopee Tribe alone has
contributed $150 million over the past 10 years to Minnesota and area
tribes and also to the local communities for infrastructure.

Other tribes, such as the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, with two casinos, have
developed infrastructure that has benefited the surrounding areas.

What is at stake are 30,000 jobs. Some 14,000 people are directly employed
by all the casinos, but an additional 16,000 people are employed as an
indirect result of the gaming operations, according to the Minnesota Indian
Gaming Association.

"The legislators don't talk about revenue sharing that is going on. They
need to talk more about that. Rather than have an honest discussion,
certain legislators are interested in filling large holes in the state
budget.

"So far the ideas have been losers, but they are at the door waiting their
time," Slawik said.

Another legislative proposal would open a high-stakes poker facility at a
racetrack in a northern suburb of Minneapolis and another proposal would
allow the state lottery to open a casino in the northern suburbs for the
benefit of the White Earth and Red Lake reservations.

A prominent topic of discussion in Minnesota is the stadium issue - whether
or not to build new stadiums for the Minnesota Vikings and Twins. A
legislative proposal would amend the state's constitution to allow a state
casino and the profits would be used to build a stadium for the Vikings and
the University of Minnesota Gophers' Football program.

And yet another bill would amend the constitution to establish a state
casino that would pay for college tuition for Minnesota students.

Gov. Pawlenty, in his state of the state message said the state needs a
better deal with the gaming compacts, because, "times have changed." He has
met with tribal leaders over the issue, but no details of the meetings were
revealed.

Hardaker said many legislators don't understand, nor do they want to
understand that the tribes govern themselves under federally sanctioned
sovereignty. Thus, the renegotiations of the compacts can be very delicate.
Both parties can request renegotiations, but Hardaker said, the Shakopee
have no intention of doing so.

With the introduction of the Knoblach and Neuville bills, comments attached
stated the volume of gaming on Indian lands had far exceeded what was
expected when the state-tribal compacts were negotiated. It went so far as
to state that video slot machines were extremely addictive and should be
banned in Minnesota.

Attempts by the state to acquire new revenue streams has had the side
effect of appearing like anti-Indian moves by many legislators. All the
bills, so far, have been introduced and authored by the Republican side of
the House and Senate, although support has come from some DFL legislators
as well.

There is no reason that tribes should take on the financial responsibility
of the state government. Indian gaming was established to benefit tribal
governments and the state has many options available to raise money and not
have to "extort" it from the tribes, Hardaker said.

"Instead of gambling money, we need to look at what is happening overall;
with the struggles we have looking us in the face. Before we make bills
into laws we need to stop and look at what we are doing.

"The governor should create a task force, like he did for the stadium and
education. A bill will be passed that will hurt the tribes and jobs. It's
getting harder all the time," Slawik said.