CASS LAKE-Six months after Leech Lake band members voted to build a new casino in Cass Lake, officials broke ground at the construction site Thursday.
Various officials, including Leech Lake Tribal Chairman Faron Jackson, Sr., Secretary/Treasurer Arthur LaRose and tribal council member LeRoy Fairbanks III expressed excitement for the upcoming project during the event, held near the current Leech Lake Gaming Administration Building.
"It kind of crept up on us because things have kind of fast-tracked a little bit quicker than we were thinking, but that's a good thing," Fairbanks said. "It's making a difference to the Leech Lake area and all of our constituents. It's huge, this is worth it, we've been talking about it for a really long time."
More than 1,000 Leech Lakers voted yes in May on a referendum to build the new $45-50 million casino, while 341 voted against. The Leech Lake Tribal Council ordered the referendum in March after officials opted for a new casino in response to mounting repair and maintenance needs at the current, ageing, Palace Casino.
The Palace wasn't initially built as a gaming building, and was remodeled in the early 1980s.
"We've made it work with what we had, out where the current casino is at, for a long time," Fairbanks said. "Ever since the inception."
Voters' approval allowed the tribal government to borrow money from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. The tribe's chairman, Charlie Vig, attended the groundbreaking.
Jackson expressed gratitude for the voters who allowed Leech Lake to move forward with the project, which he said will benefit the tribe as a whole.
"I get excited for that, you know, with the job creations and additional revenue that's going to come our way way to provide more services," Jackson said. "I want to say thank you to our membership for allowing this day to happen, you know. It wouldn't have happened without your consent."
The new casino, scheduled to open during the summer of 2019, will include 650 slots, four blackjack tables, 100 hotel rooms, a food court, brew pub, restaurant and a circle bar on the casino floor, as well as a 250-seat event center, fitness center, gift shop and arcade.
LaRose credited gaming revenue for the tribe's ability to hold between eight and 10 powwows a year, and called the coming casino "a win for all of us."
"Without gaming revenue we wouldn't be able to do many positive things on this reservation," LaRose said. "We're the largest employer in Cass County here, and we don't only help our people out, we help our neighbors out."