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Tribes criticize town meeting

HUDSON, Wis. - The on-going saga of the racetrack casino plan here continues to draw out the best and worst in people and organizations.

Three Wisconsin tribes and a Florida company formed a partnership to restore the failing Hudson Dog Track and convert it to a casino.

The latest move came from the town of Hudson, on the St. Croix River just across from Minnesota and west of the Twin Cities. At a recent town hall meeting in front of more than 100 people, those representing the three tribes walked out, claiming the meeting was a "charade" and set up as an opposition forum instead of an objective hearing. Most of the people at the meeting spoke out against the casino development.

The Minnesota-Wisconsin Boundary Area Commission, sponsor of the meeting, was criticized by Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Chairman gaiashkibos. He referred to the hearing as a charade and added that the one-sided meeting would not happen when applied to any other business developments.

He was spokesman for the other two tribes as well and in that capacity said he respectfully declined comment and refused to participate in "this unprecedented and shameful exercise of political opportunism."

The Mole Lake Band of Ojibwe, Lac Courte Oreilles and the Red Cliff Band have attempted to transform a money-losing dog track into a casino for nearly six years. The three tribes are in northern Wisconsin where the population does not offer enough support to operate successful casinos, tribal officials said.

In 1995, Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt turned down the application to open the casino. He fell under criticism that asserted his decision was a political quid pro quo because some tribes in Wisconsin donated to the Clinton-Gore campaign. After an investigation by an independent counsel, no charges were filed against Babbitt.

Interior offered an opening for the tribes to regroup and have the application reviewed.

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Casino proponents argue the existing dog track, where the casino will be located, is out of the boundaries of the St. Croix Riverway and that the infrastructure to support the casino is already in place.

The bottom line, says gaiashkibos, is that commission executive director Buck Malick advanced his personal opposition to the casino through the hearing process. Malick denied the accusation. He said the commission coordinates natural resource policy along the borders of the two states.

Ten members of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association presented a 200-page environmental study attacking the proposal.

Hudson city officials said the casino would impact a proposed hospital to be built near the site.

The Girls Scouts of America submitted a letter of opposition. The organization has a camp across the road from the dog track, which officials said, was also a problem.

"It's simple: Kids and casinos don't mix. Not only would a casino development harm the physical environment, but it would jeopardize the YMCA's ability to give 23,000 young people a year a safe, positive experience with nature and outdoor learning," said John Duntley, executive director of Camp St. Croix.

There are many hurdles yet to jump before the proposed casino is approved or denied. Interior could reject the plan. And, even if it is approved, Gov. Thompson has the final say. He must approve the casino and compact with the tribes. His public stance for the past few years indicates he will not allow any expansion of gaming unless another casino closes. He also said he would deny the casino if the people of Hudson and St. Croix County disapproved. There is also an option of a referendum vote.

Tribes in the vicinity in Wisconsin and Minnesota oppose the casino on the grounds that business at their casinos would be threatened. The St. Croix Band of Ojibwe recently lost a bid to file an injunction in federal court to stop the dog-track casino from progressing.