White Earth Band continues casino effort

Minnesota legislators talk little about a White Earth Band casino proposal to increase state revenue, but the band leader says she will continue to push it as lawmakers struggle to find money for everything from a stadium to schools.

To answer one of the critics’ nagging questions, White Earth hired former Minnesota Chief Justice Eric Magnuson to look into constitutionality of the state allowing the northwestern Minnesota band to build a Twin Cities casino. He opined: “Legislation authorizing casino gaming, including slot machines, would survive a challenge based on the Minnesota Constitution.”

But even tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor, who continues to push hard for a new casino, admits the plan likely would land in court, Nathan Bowe of Detroit Lakes Newspapers reports.

The small Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Band, operator of the state’s biggest casino, Mystic Lake, probably would be joined by other tribes in fighting the White Earth proposal.

“They’re shackled by money, power and greed, and you can quote me on that,” Vizenor said. “But White Earth is doing the right thing for our people and the state of Minnesota; the resistance and pressure and attacks will not thwart me.”

Besides other casino-owning tribes, conservatives who oppose gambling could challenge the plan in court.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said he opposes using casino revenue, including allowing slot machines at horse-racing tracks, for stadium construction funding because a court case could delay the money for five years.

Magnuson said there has “never been a general prohibition on gambling in either the Minnesota Constitution or state statutes.” But, he added, Minnesota courts have not ruled on questions about the plan to allow the state lottery to extend its oversight to casinos.

“It is our opinion that the state could, if it so chooses, define casino gaming as a lottery to avoid any constitutional issue of whether such gaming is, in fact, a lottery as that term is used in the Constitution,” Magnuson said.

Vizenor pointed out that state and tribal governments have worked together on casinos in Wisconsin, Michigan and other states.

White Earth says the state could received up to $1 billion in the first five years of a Twin Cities casino operation.

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