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A grand opening: New Red Lake Seven Clans Casino employs 100

Red Lake Tribal Chairman Floyd "Buck" Jourdain Jr. presides over formal grand opening ceremonies Friday night at the Red Lake Casino. About 350 people listened to speeches and then a performance of the comedy group, Powwow Comedy Jam. The casino opened late last month at state Highway 89 and the Red Lake Reservation border. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson1 / 2
Ernie Stevens of Wisconsin, president of the National Indian Gaming Association, said at Friday night's Red Lake Casino grand opening that the casino means economic development and jobs for the region. The casino employs about 100 people. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson2 / 2

SOUTH OF RED LAKE -- The new Red Lake Seven Clans Casino, open less than a month, already is a reservation economic engine, employing more than 100 people.

In the national economy, American Indian tribes last year generated $25.9 billion in gross gaming revenues, Ernie Stevens Jr., president of the National Indian Gaming Association, said here Friday night at grand opening ceremonies.

Tribes produced another $3.2 billion in gross revenues from related resorts, hotels, restaurants and other lodging and entertainment venues, he said. Tribal gaming stimulates 636,000 jobs nationwide.

"Those statistics just went up today," Stevens said. "Those statistics just climbed today because of the Red Lake Nation. And this time, when times become tough, for some reason here at Red Lake we're challenging that economy. We're working through it, and people are working - Indians and non-Indians alike."

About 350 people crowded into the casino's event hall at the casino at the Red Lake Reservation border on state Highway 89. After the speeches, they heard a performance from the "Powwow Comedy Jam," four American Indian stand-up comics.

The casino was one of few in the nation to be built with all Indian funds. Instead of going to a non-Indian banker for construction loans, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa borrowed $31 million from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community, which runs Mystic Lake Casino.

The loan not only helped build the 300-slot casino which includes a 40-room hotel and restaurant and convention center, but also a Law Enforcement Center expansion, start a propane energy business and build a forestry greenhouse.

"As all tribal leaders know, we're confronted with trying to find jobs and bring business to the reservation," said Red Lake Tribal Chairman Floyd "Buck" Jourdain Jr. "We created nearly 100 jobs - 60 new and 45 already existing - plus we had over 100 band members work on this facility."

Woodstone Builders of Minneapolis used primarily local labor for the project, with many Red Lakers learning the trades in the process.,

"If anybody tells you we didn't employ our people out here ... they helped from Day 1 moving the dirt all the way to flicking on that light switch," Jourdain said. "So we're really proud of that, putting our people to work and having a hand in every aspect of this facility."

While offering slot machines, blackjack tables and two poker tables, the complex offers much more, he said.

"Band members said 70/30 they'd really like a facility, but not just a gambling facility," Jourdain said. "We'd like a place where we can go just to go to the hotel. We need a hotel on the reservation; we don't have one. We dome home for powwows, we come home for reunions, weddings and sometimes funerals and we really need something like that."

Plus, the center can be used for graduations, powwows, concerts, etc., he added.

It has a swimming pool in the shape of the two Red Lakes, and the casino's motif is designed to represent woodland Indians. "Lodges" represent the casino, hotel, and restaurant/convention center.

Jourdain said a key outdoor item is a swooping eagle sculpture with a 30-foot wingspan, which architects saw and were able to buy from a West Glacier, Mont., resort.

"We came in under budget," he said, saying the tough economic times led to good construction costs, allowing funds for the eagle which purportedly cost $100,000. "It was perfect fpr the Red Lake Casino. ... It is the cherry on the top. The eagle is something we are very proud of."

Good bidding allowed "good deals at excellent quality," he said. "We got good prices, labor, materials to build everything. It's a good time to build right now."

Jourdain announced that the band is already looking at "down the road" expanding its casino at Warroad.

"Winnipeg is our Minneapolis," he said. "Grand Forks is our St. Cloud. "

Ray Brenny, Red Lake Gaming Enterprise chief operating officer, said as of Friday morning, the casino's Player's Club had 3,000 new members, most from areas outside of the reservation who had never been to the casino before.

People are coming from Winnipeg, other parts of Canada, North and South Dakota, and elsewhere.

"We are an economic driver within this area," Brenny said. "We've got a new event center opening in Bemidji. We view that as being another economic driver, not competitors, but working together to grow the region.."

And neighboring casinos together are helping drive people from Minneapolis and south to the north for a different experience, he said.

The success so far of the casino is due to the staff, "all the way down to the front line," Brenny said. "We had some of the best workers on this project."