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Plans to serve alcohol not sitting well with everyone

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ROCKY BOY, Mont. (AP) - Plans to serve alcohol at the new Northern Winz Casino on the Rocky Boy's Reservation are drawing fire from some, but casino operators defend the decision as a necessary business move.

Among the critics is Jonathan Windy Boy, a member of the Chippewa-Cree Tribal Council and a state legislator, who said allowing alcohol on the otherwise ''dry'' reservation is a mistake.

''I'm 25 years alcohol-free,'' Windy Boy said. ''I'm opposed and I'll always be opposed and it's not a dead issue with me personally.''

Windy Boy fears alcohol sales could bring a host of problems, including an increase in drunken-driving incidents. The reservation is currently is one of four that outlaws the sale of alcohol.

The tribal council voted 4 - 2 to approve alcohol sales at the facility, with Windy Boy and Councilman Rusty Gopher voting against it.

The tribe's state liquor license application arrived in December at the state Revenue Department's liquor license division. State law requires the division to advertise the license application in the local paper once a week for four weeks.

Public hearings are expected. The Department of Revenue hearing examiner would have authority to approve or deny the license.

Jason Wood, manager of the liquor license division, noted that the liquor license application filed several years ago for the Jitterbugs bar, just south of the reservation in Box Elder, was heavily protested. The license was eventually granted.

Jitterbugs owner Tony Belcourt said casinos and alcohol go hand-in-hand, and the tribe needs to try new business ventures.

''We've got to diversify and do whatever we can to survive,'' he said.

Serving alcohol on a reservation should be no different than serving it elsewhere, Belcourt said.

Pete Sutherland, a counselor at the tribe's White Sky Sobriety Center, said he believes allowing alcohol sales at the casino would be a step in the wrong direction.

''We were disappointed when the tribe went ahead and approved that,'' said Sutherland, a recovering alcoholic. ''Alcohol is so devastating to our community and Indian country overall. We just don't think it's going to be good for our reservation.''

The casino could be successful without alcohol sales, but it would likely hurt business, said Ray Brown, who is with Noram, the casino's developer and financial backer.

Alcohol, dining, smoking and gaming all are part of the casino experience, Brown said.

''From a purely business perspective, I believe it does create a competitive disadvantage'' by not allowing alcohol, he said.

Brown said the casino is being developed to bring outside money to the reservation, not ''as an entertainment outlet to the tribal members.''

He added that, at the tribal council's request, the casino will not serve free drinks, as is customary in Las Vegas.

''We don't want to create an environment where it's all about going in there and having free access to the alcohol,'' he said.