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White Earth's casino plan misguided

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The Red Lake Nation and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, along with other member tribes of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA), are opposed to efforts by the White Earth Band of Ojibwe to develop an off-reservation casino in the Twin Cities. Contrary to claims by White Earth Chairwoman Erma Vizenor, the White Earth proposal is not at all consistent with federal law or the intent of federal Indian gaming policy.

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Several years ago, the Red Lake Nation and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe briefly entertained the notion of participating in a tribal-state joint casino venture driven by White Earth. It quickly became clear that the plan was a one-sided effort by the state to exploit our tribal status for its own financial gain. The tribes stood to gain very little, but the state would have gained a foothold in casino gaming that could ultimately lead to unlimited state-sponsored expansion at great cost to us and every other Minnesota tribe. We saw through the plan and withdrew our participation in the State/White Earth effort.

Today, we agree with the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA) view that any effort by any tribe to expand gambling into off-reservation locations is misguided and contrary to the spirit of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), the federal law under which Indian gaming is conducted and regulated. IGRA was intended to create jobs and stimulate economic activity on Indian reservations, where traditional approaches to economic development have failed.

White Earth's proposal is contrary to long-term tribal interests because it compromises sovereignty, diverts tribal revenues to non-tribal purposes, in violation of federal law and the tribal government's responsibility to its own members, and sets a dangerous precedent for unwarranted revenue-sharing. By positioning itself as a financing partner offering to develop a casino and share proceeds with the State of Minnesota outside the framework of IGRA, the tribe has waived its sovereign status and put itself on the same level as any private-sector developer.

The premise of the White Earth proposal is that it would address "the extreme disparity in revenues generated by tribal casinos." Since Indian gaming was intended as a tool for economic development on the reservation, it was never envisioned or intended that tribes would benefit equally. IGRA recognized that each tribe would be operating its gaming enterprises on tribal lands with all the benefits and limitations inherent in those locations. Moreover, the proposal as currently written would not remedy revenue disparities; it would merely increase revenue for one tribe, at the expense of others.

The White Earth bill (Article 1, Section 1) asserts a "lack of significant direct revenue to the state of Minnesota" from tribal gaming. In fact, the intent of Indian gaming was to produce revenue for tribes, not states. The suggestion that the state has a right to tribal gaming revenues is simply wrongheaded and totally inconsistent with the stated intent of IGRA.

Further, both federal law and the rulings of the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) have reaffirmed that tribes may not divert gaming revenues to states or cities except to pay for benefits or services provided by those entities.

Those who say that the state has not benefited from Indian gaming are simply wrong. Tribal gaming has been a huge economic asset to Minnesota, and it hasn't cost state taxpayers a dime. The 41,000 jobs, direct and indirect, created by the tribes were created without state assistance.

Finally, the suggestion that the state would bind itself to an exclusivity agreement for thirty years in exchange for 50 percent of the proceeds of a White Earth-owned casino is patently absurd. There is not a single state in the U.S. that, having entered the casino business, has stopped at one casino. What happens to tribal casinos when Minnesota decides it needs another casino, and then another?

MIGA member tribes take no pleasure in opposing White Earth on this matter. However, the tribe's proposal is so inimical to the interests of the other tribes in Minnesota that we believe we have no alternative.

Arthur "Archie" LaRose is Chairman of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

Floyd Jourdain, Jr. is Chairman of the Red Lake Nation

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