Native American Press / Ojibwe News

April 18, 2003
Tribal/state casino bill takes 2 more hits, but still alive

By Bill Lawrence

Despite seeing his bill to establish a state/tribal casino in the metro area suffer its third defeat within a week, House author Bill Haas, R-Champlin, told the media during a break in the hearing that, “he was disappointed in the votes” but will “look for other opportunities” to revive it in the remaining four weeks of the legislative session. Two of those votes came on Tuesday evening in the House Ways and Means Committee 13-7 against the bill and the House Finance Committees 6-5 to delete it as an amendment to a finance bill. The third occurred last week in the House Governmental Operations and Veterans Affairs Committee by a vote of 10-8.

Red Lake and White Earth tribal leaders told Press/ON immediately after the Tuesday votes that although disappointed, they praised Rep. Haas for all his work on the bill, and said they would continue to pursue it until they were successful. Red Lake tribal treasurer Darrell Seki told Press/ON, “we know this is the right thing to do, not only for the Red Lake and White Earth people, but also for the people of the state of Minnesota.”

Although support for the tribal/state casino bill has primarily come from Republicans, in spite of huge contributions to their campaign coffers from the wealthy tribes there have been a few notable Democratic exceptions, such as Sen. Sandy Pappas, St. Paul and Reps. Phyllis Kahn, Mpls. and Keith Ellison, Mpls.

In addition, during deliberations on the bill in the House Finance Committee, DFL Rep. Michael Paymar, St. Paul, said that although he was voting against the bill he thought it was time that the tribal/state gaming compacts be re-negotiated. Numerous other reps. from both sides of the aisle expressed a liking for the bill and said that something needed to done to make Indian gaming more equitable.  Sen. John Marty, D-Roseville, early in the session introduced a bill to renegotiate the compacts.

Perhaps the most disturbing statement made by opponents of the tribal/state casino bill was by Bill Hilty, D-Finlayson, who said during the House Finance Committee hearings that the bill “would only benefit a few rich white guys.” Noticeable gasps were heard throughout the hearing room, in addition to the many who sat in obvious bewilderment.  House Finance Committee chair and bill author Bill Haas later responded to Hilty that he was deeply offended by the remark, and he knew that would not be the case. But to this author, the remark shows the deep division the bill is causing to legislators this session as the pressure builds for the legislature to find sources of funds to deal with the budget deficits, while protecting the special interests that put them in office.

The tribal-state casino bill calls for a tribally owned and financed casino to be built, most likely in the northern suburbs, and operated under the Minnesota Lottery.  Initial projects estimate development costs to be in the $350 million dollar range, with the tribes and the state to split annual income of $300 to $400 million dollars.  Projections also indicate that the tribal-state casino would create three to four thousand jobs.  Red Lake and White Earth are the two largest tribes in Minnesota, and represent nearly 70% of Minnesota’s Indian population.
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Red Lake and White Earth tribal officials told Press/ON before they headed home on Wednesday that they would be meeting with their councils and legislative sponsors to discuss what options left open to them for this session. Obviously one option is to join up with the Racino bill that is successfully moving through the House and is scheduled for a floor vote next week.

The bill is called the Minnesota Gaming Equity Act (HF 1020, SF 966), and is posted online through the legislature’s “Minnesota Legislation and Bill Status” website at http://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/legis.asp  



 
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