White Earth to state stadium backers: ‘You have the ball’

Eken, Vizenor

The White Earth Nation says it will front the state’s Vikings stadium construction costs, if it receives approval to build a Twin Cities casino.

Chairwoman Erma Vizenor of the northwestern Minnesota American Indian tribe Thursday announced White Earth is tweaking an earlier proposal so the state would get $400 million up front, and then receive half of all casino profits. She said that could amount to $1 billion in the first five years of casino operation.

“We have moved the ball to the goal line…” Vizenor said. “It is now the governor and Legislature’s turn; you have the ball.”

The proposal means the state would not need to sell bonds, and repay them with interest, to finance the stadium, she said.

“Minnesota will have the money and the Vikings will be able to proceed in a timely manner,” Vizenor added.

However, the up-front money would come only after a casino receives final approval, which might not come until after a court challenge.

Vizenor and other supporters suggested that the existing legislative proposal to use new revenue from allowing electronic pulltabs and bingo could provide stadium funding until a casino is approved and the tribe can hand over the $400 million.

Opponents to the plan include the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, which represents most Minnesota American Indian tribes with casinos, but not White Earth. The other tribes worry that a new Twin Cities casino would take customers from them.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Mark Dayton said he continues to oppose funding a stadium via a casino because it would be unreliable.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said he would look at the proposal, but was not optimistic.

“I don’t know it has the votes,” he said.

He also said with the end of the legislative session approaching, it is unlikely to be done this year, and said there are questions surrounding the funding.

The White Earth announcement came as a Senate stadium construction bill remains stalled and a House proposal is slowly advancing but with many concerns from legislators.

Thursday’s announcement was a tweak to a proposal Vizenor unveiled in February to work out a casino partnership with the state. The tribe would foot the entire $700 million to build a casino and split profits with the state.

“We are making a good solution better,” she said.

Vizenor said casino planners are looking at several potential locations, including Minneapolis, Arden Hills and Anoka.

The tribe says it does not get enough profit from its existing casino in Mahnomen and since 2005 has sought a Twin Cities presence. White Earth members make up 40 percent of the state’s American Indians and it is the poorest tribe.

Besides promising the state $400 million up front, the White Earth plan would guarantee $12 million for Canterbury Park and Running Aces to improve purses at the state’s two horse-racing tracks. Supporters said White Earth would fill the gap if the tracks’ existing gambling revenues, from betting on races and cards clubs, do not reach $12 million a year.

The two tracks long have sought permission to expand their own operations to allow casino-style gambling, arguing that more money is needed to save the horse industry.

Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said the purse provision was added because the $1 billion-a-year horse industry is struggling and many Minnesota horses are taken out of state to race.

Eken earlier introduced a bill to implement the White Earth plan, known as Minnesota Wins, but it has not received a hearing.

Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said the White Earth proposal fulfills his constituents’ stadium wishes: “I don’t want to pay for it, but it is time to get this done.”

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