Tribes drop out of Pawlenty's Minnesota casino plan


ST. PAUL, Minn. - A plan to open a casino in the Twin Cities metro area -
with three northern Minnesota tribes benefiting from the revenue - was
changed to two casinos at Canterbury Park racetrack with two of the tribes
pulling out of the deal.

On a strictly partisan vote in the state House, a new plan that would
create a racino at an existing horse track and an adjacent casino was
approved. The Senate earlier did not approve a plan that would have created
a racino at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn. and an additional casino
elsewhere in the Twin City metro area.

The approved plan now creates the racino and a casino adjacent to the race
track that would be partnered with the tribes.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty looked to gaming revenues to replace a $200 million state
revenue shortfall in the next two years. The new plan would require the
racetrack and the lone tribe that continues to agree with the proposal to
each contribute $150 million for the first two years.

The original plan would have required the tribes to contribute $200 million
in license fees for the first two years and the racetrack just $100

The two casinos, with 2,000 slot machines each, would be located next to
each other and just three miles from the state's largest casino: Mystic
Lake, operated by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community.

Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth Chippewa tribes were to be part of a
plan that would create a casino in the metro area with revenues to be
shared with the state and the tribes. The three reservations are located in
remote northern areas, and with more than 65 percent of the Chippewa Tribal
membership they receive the least amount of gaming revenue.

The Leech Lake Tribal Council opted out of the new plan first, and then a
week later the Red Lake Council disapproved the plan. While Erma Vizenor,
chairman of White Earth, said that one part of the plan - to limit daily
loses to $500 - is objectionable, but the tribe agreed to continue and will
participate. Canterbury Park officials also objected to the $500 limit.

The Red Lake Council voted unanimously against the new proposal. Some
tribal members were hesitant to be part of a deal with non-tribal
businesses, and some didn't want to move into Shakopee Mdewakanton
territory and compete with another tribal nation.

While the Shakopee Community has stayed out of the political arena on this
entire Issue, the proposal that puts two casino operations within three
miles of Mystic Lake did prompt comment.

"It is the epitome of disrespect for the governor to invite northern
Ojibway tribal governments onto land that is not just in traditional Dakota
territory, but on land that is nearly adjacent to a historic Mdewakanton
village site. Not only do we have a governor who does not keep his word to
tribal leaders; we have a governor who purposefully instigates conflict
between tribal governments."

Tribal members also expressed a fear that with the state involved in casino
ownership, bars and lounges across the state would want to offer slot
machine gaming as well; also some didn't want to help out the owners of
Canterbury Park racetrack.

The gaming issue has taken on a life of its own over for the past two years
and partisan politics is a result.

Republicans are very much in favor of the gaming initiatives in order to
raise much-needed revenue for the state; Democrats argue that other methods
of raising revenue would serve the state better and not possibly lead to an
overall expansion of gaming.

Pawlenty has his hands tied with campaign promises. He was elected two
years ago and stated that he was opposed to an expansion of gaming. He also
said he would not raise taxes to fill the state coffers.

Officials at the governor's office said this new proposal is acceptable
because the two casinos would be located where gambling already exists and
does not constitute expansion to another community.

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum said he would push the proposal
through committees and onto the House floor.

The battle over gaming expansion and state involvement in gaming does not
stop at the state House or Senate. Twin Cities tribes have gone public with
their criticism of the governor's attempt to get the state into the casino
business. Prairie Island Community, owners of the successful Treasure
Island Casino, ran television ads that criticized the governor. Shakopee
and Prairie Island have run television ads that educated the public about
the philanthropic efforts made by the tribes, which runs into the millions
of dollars yearly.

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association created a brochure that accused the
governor of flip-flopping on gaming. The brochure resembles flip-flop
sandals and focuses on a comment made by the governor in May 2003. "It is
not a proper function of government to be running casinos," Pawlenty is
alleged to have said. Pawlenty's chief of staff, Dan McElroy, traveled to
Las Vegas to talk with big gambling names with the intent of putting a mega
casino next to or within the Mall of America.