Wednesday, October 13, 2010


The three major candidates for Governor of Minnesota are making their views known on gambling expansion, and the news isn't good for Minnesota tribes.

MIGA Executive Director John McCarthy said that Independence Party candidate Tom Horner, Republican nominee Tom Emmer, and DFL standard-bearer Mark Dayton are "only looking at the up-side" of opening state-sponsored casinos in Minnesota, without looking at the cost to Indian tribes and rural communities.

"Each of the candidates has a different message about expansion, but all three have indicated that they would consider, if not actively seek, legislative approval for a racino or a state-run casino in the metro area," McCarthy said. "They're looking for easy answers to the state's budget crisis. Unfortunately, they're not giving voters the whole story."

MIGA tribes continue to oppose expansion on several grounds, McCarthy said, but the most significant is the potential impact on rural casinos and the communities that depend on them.

"When rural tribes sneeze, the surrounding counties catch pneumonia," McCarthy said. "If the state approves slots at the harness track in Anoka County, the Mille Lacs Band could lose from 35 to 50 percent of its business. That could mean layoffs of anywhere from 600 to 1,300 employees. Can you imagine what that would do to the economy of the counties around those casinos?" The Mille Lacs Band's tribal lands are located in Mille Lacs, Pine, Aitkin and Crow Wing counties.

Once the state opens the door to further expansion, it's difficult to imagine where it will end, said McCarthy.

"It's almost impossible to stop the spread of gambling once it starts," he concluded. "States never cut back on gambling; they only add more and more."

For information on how to get involved in the fight against gambling expansion, click on "Action Center" on the MIGA website.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Despite aggressive last-minute political maneuvers by racino supporters, the Minnesota Legislature adjourned on May 17 without passing the racino proposal or any other measure to expand gambling in the state.

Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA) Executive Director John McCarthy said that opposition to the racino cut across party lines, and reflected a wide range of concerns with gambling expansion.

"Many fiscal conservatives think gambling revenue just gives government permission to spend more money," McCarthy said. "Others worry about the slippery slope--opening the door to unlimited expansion. Some people are concerned that expanding gambling will increase compulsive gambling problems. And, of course, our tribal members and employees were very worried about their jobs and the future of their communities."

McCarthy said hundreds of tribal members and employees signed up as part of the MIGA Action Network on the association's website. Their email messages to legislators helped turn the tide against the racino proposal, he said.

"The racino issue hasn't gone away," McCarthy concluded. "They'll be back next year, and the pressure will be even greater because the state's budget deficit will be even worse in 2011. We'll have to fight the battle all over again. But we're ready."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


A report issued by the Minnesota legislature's non-partisan House Research Department has provided legislators with a sharp reality check on the amount of revenue they should expect from proposed racinos at Canterbury Park and Running Aces Harness Track.

While Racino Now lobbyist Dick Day claims the proposed racinos will generate $125 million per year for the state, a memo issued February 18 by House Research Director Patrick McCormack suggests the amount will be substantially lower.

McCormack based his projections on an analysis by the State of Illinois, which previously had considered authorizing racinos at the state's racetracks. Using the Illinois model, McCormack estimates Minnesota state revenues from racinos at between $44 million and $98 million per year.

SF 2950, the racino bill supported by Racino Now, dedicates net revenues of $125 million annually to the state out of a projected total annual net of approximately $365 million, or about $1 million per day from from 3,000 slot machines divided between the two racino locations.

In order to reach the $1 million per day mark, each racino slot machine would have to generate $333 per day in net revenue. For comparison purposes, Wynn Resorts reported an average daily net win per unit of $149 for Wynn Las Vegas as of October 27, 2009, down from $225 in 2008.

MIGA Executive Director John McCarthy said the unreliability of revenue projections makes the racino bill a high-risk proposition. "If legislators make budget decisions based on racino revenue that never materializes or falls far short, the budget problem will be even worse than it is now," he said.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


A statewide non-partisan think tank has published a report challenging the claims made by Racino Now, the racino advocacy group led by former State Senator Dick Day, who serves as the group's primary spokesperson.

The report, issued by the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota (FFM), said that Racino Now has greatly exaggerated the economic importance of the horse industry in Minnesota to win broader support for the racino proposal. Among the overstated items, according to the FFM report:

  • Racino Now frequently cites a "University of Minnesota study" as the basis for its economic impact claims, but the statistics actually come from a PowerPoint presentation made by a U of M faculty member.
  • Racino Now claims that there are 150,000 horses in Minnesota, but the actual figure, according to the MN Department of Agriculture is about 90,000.
  • Racino Now claims that each horse in the state generates about $6,000 per year in economic impact--but that figure actually comes from Pennsylvania, not Minnesota.
  • Racino Now says the total economic impact of the horse industry is over $1 billion a year, but it's actually about half that--an estimated $541 million.
  • Racino Now claims Minnesota's horse industry is in financial trouble, but statistics show that there are more horses in the state today than in 1982, and that the average number of horses per farm is the highest in modern record-keeping, indications of a thriving industry.
The report also notes that members of the horse industry are more affluent than other Minnesotans. While only 10 percent of all Minnesotans have annual incomes in excess of $105,000, about 25 percent of horse owners earn more than $125,000 a year.

Freedom Foundation spokesperson Annette Meeks said the report raises some important questions about the true benefits of the racino proposal.

"One must ask why, if the horse industry in Minnesota is thriving, it should be subsidized by the state," she said. "Adding racinos to Minnesota will have little or no economic benefit to farmers, ranchers and other horse enthusiasts throughout the state."


SF 2950, a bill that would have authorized privately owned racinos at Canterbury Park and Running Aces Harness Track, failed to pass out of a key Minnesota Senate committee last Wednesday after the bill’s author, Senator Dan Sparks, asked committee members to table the measure instead of proceeding to a vote.

In closing comments, Sparks acknowledged that he didn’t have the votes needed to pass the bill.

No further committee hearings are expected on any of the gambling expansion bills currently before the legislature, but any of the proposals could resurface as amendments to bills on the Senate or House floors later in the session.

Another racino bill was heard earlier in the House Committee on Local Government, but no vote was taken.

MIGA Executive Director John McCarthy said the association is not taking anything for granted, even though no gambling bills were passed out of committees in either chamber.

“The racino forces aren’t going to go away just because their bills didn’t get committee support,” McCarthy said. “They’ll attach a racino amendment to some other bill to get it on the floor for debate. We’re prepared for that.”

Expansion opponents who have joined the MIGA Action Network will receive email alerts when their help is needed, McCarthy said.

"We're very grateful for the involvement of our Action Network," McCarthy said. "There's no doubt that they are making a difference by making their voices heard."

Video of the hearing is available at

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


The Owatonna People's Press has reported that Republicans in Steele County have overwhelmingly voted to oppose the proposed racino, rejecting a plea for support from the area's former state senator and Racino Now spokesperson Dick Day. Here's the full text of the February 27 story:

In spite of former Sen. Dick Day’s efforts, local delegates from his own party unanimously rejected a resolution supporting racino — an initiative to bring slot machines and video gaming to Minnesota’s horse racing tracks.

In December 2009, Day resigned from the state senate in the middle of his sixth term to pursue a career with for Racino Now, a lobbyist group backed by Canterbury Park, the Minnesota Quarter Horse Racing Association and other groups connected to the horse track industry.

Day has often said that 70 percent of Minnesotans are in favor of racino, which supporters say would generate millions of dollars in revenue for the state at a time when the legislature cased a billion dollar deficit.

However, a resolution expressly supporting racino did not get a single supporting vote at the Steele County Republican Party’s County Convention on Saturday. The delegates also shot down a resolution to strike out a portion of the party’s platform that calls for the elimination of state sponsored gambling in Minnesota.
Day was not present at the time.

The vote points to a rift in the local Republican Party which first surfaced on the campaign for a nominee to unseat DFL Rep. Kory Kath in District 26A. So far, two Republicans have declared their intention to run — Ted Boosalis, who is firmly against racino, and Brandon Pofahl, a candidate backed by Day. According to Boosalis, the racino rumble turned ugly Saturday at the Republican County Convention in Waseca.

“I have been against racino since day one and I will not waver my position based on polling. I need to tell you this, as soon as I gave my speech in Waseca I walked out to check a voice message and guess what happened?” Boosalis told delegates at the Steele County Convention. “A racino supporter literally accosted me out in the hallway. Here we have someone writing legislation for racino accosting me and yelling me out in the hallway. I will get shouted down, that’s just fine, but I’ll still vote no.”

Boosalis’ confrontation was just the latest development in what has become a flashpoint for local conservatives. Debate over the topic also flared up twice at political events in the last week, once at a Conservative Coffee Talk on Feb. 20 and again at a townhall meeting with newly-elected Republican Sen. Mike Parry, who won Day’s old seat in a special election on Jan. 26.

At the coffee talk, Day got into a heated exchange with Boosalis and other fellow conservatives, who objected to the racino proposal on moral grounds. Local Republican delegate Bob Nesbit further pointed out the effort to push through racino is diametrically opposed to the state Republican Party’s platform — Section 4J — which states “We should eliminate all state-sponsored gambling and oppose any expansion of gambling in Minnesota.”

“I don’t even look at the platform,” Day replied.

Nesbit brought racino up again on Thursday, asking Parry where he stood on the issue. Parry voiced support for the push to expand gambling.

“I’m telling you right up front I believe we can use racino. I know I’ve had a couple people come to me and quote verses out of the Bible because they know I’m a Christian guy. The state has already allowed tribal gambling, the state has already allowed the lottery — this is something that we put forth and the citizens, if they want to gamble, they will gamble,” Parry said. “Let’s do something that’s voluntary, that’s a revenue source that’s not taxation, but let us control where that money goes. I would fully support it if we could take some of that money and put it towards education, because education needs it.”

Again, Nesbit told Parry that racino proposal goes against the state GOP’s own proposed policy.

“Granted, money is nice, but is it moral?” Nesbit said, who added what Day had said about the party platform. “That’s the problem — we spend hours and hours and hours making up all these resolutions (to alter the party’s platform), thinking we’ve got input into this whole situation then what do you guys do? You just go by the way you feel or by the way the pressure is coming.”

Parry argued that most of his constituents support racino — only two people urged him to take a stance against it while he was campaigning, he said. Because of this, Parry said the will of the public takes precedence over his own personal views regarding gambling.

“It’s a tough call, but am I here to represent the citizens,” Parry said.

“I don’t want you to vote for it. The reason why is every time we think we find a pot of gold and we designate the funds to go some place, eventually the legislature starts dibbling into it and moving the money to someplace else. I feel that we need to get the budget balanced, get the cuts done, and then we’ll think about racino,” said an audience member who refused to give her name, but is also a delegate for the Steele County Republican Party. “You guys will sit up there and do the same darn thing, you’ll keep filtering off that money and putting it everywhere else but where it was meant to go.”

This week two DFL members — Rep. Al Juhnke of Willmar and Sen. Dan Sparks of Austin — put forward a racino bill. Parry said he thought the proposal would fail if racino money was not directed to a specific purpose.

“I don’t think racino will pass if it isn’t designated. I don’t think there’s anyone who wants to see it go into the general fund,” Parry said. “And where ever it ends up going, it needs to go to a core need in our state, and I don’t think a football stadium is a core need of our state.”

Members of the local Republican Party gathered at the county convention felt differently.
“I do not support state-sponsored gambling,” said delegate Nathan Dotson. “I don’t think the state has any business in gambling. If you want to open a private casino, I don’t care, but I don’t think the state should have any part of it.”

The GOP’s endorsing convention for House District 26A and Senate District 26 will be next Saturday, March 6.

Monday, March 1, 2010


The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community has announced that it gave a record $129 million in economic development loans in FY 2009 to tribes in Minnesota and nationwide, and has already made $52 million in loans during FY 2010 to tribes in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. The loans are in addition to about $60 million awarded in grants to various tribes and charitable organizations.

The most recent loans include one to the Upper Sioux Community, which received a $9 million loan and a $1 million grant to add rooms at the tribe's hotel and enlarge gaming space within its Prairie's Edge Casino.

“The Upper Sioux Community would like to thank the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community for their continued support of our Nation. Through your generosity and commitment to assist other tribes, our casino/hotel project can move forward and will allow the Upper Sioux Community to better attain our financial goals, thus improving the quality of life for our Nation,” said Upper Sioux Chairman Kevin Jensvold.

A $30 million loan was awarded to the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Tribes, formerly known as the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, to refinance outstanding tribal debt and decrease debt service, improve the tribal operating budget, and retire all casino revenue secured debt. The loan will fund new working capital needs to retain and create tribal government jobs as well as provide funding to support government operations for two years.

The Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota received approval for up to $13 million in loans to build a new casino replacing their Fort Randall facility. The new casino will be the anchor of a major planned multi-phase development project including a hotel, convention center and RV park, creating a destination resort to bring visitors and economic development to the region.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe donated more than $513,000 in cash and in-kind contributions to community programs in Minnesota and nationwide in 2009, according to tribal officials. The contributions went to 44 of Minnesota's 67 counties, and two Wisconsin counties that border on Mille Lacs' tribal lands.

Michael Garrow, Commissioner of Corporate Affairs for the Mille Lacs Band, said in a February 19 news release that the tribe is "committed to supporting organizations and causes that sustain our region and enrich the lives of our neighbors and community members." Donations benefited everything from youth wellness and family service groups to organizations that provide transitional employment for recovering alcoholics.

The Mille Lacs Band is the largest taxpayer in Pine County and one of the largest in Mille Lacs County. In 2008, the tribe paid over $1 million in property taxes to Pine County, nearly $400,000 to Mille Lacs County, and a small amount to Aitkin County. The tribe pays property taxes because some facilities are located on fee lands instead of trust land, making them subject to local taxes.

The Mille Lacs Band operates Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Grand Casino Hinckley, which together employ more than 2,800 people, of which about 91 percent are non-Indians. Another 640 people work for the tribal government and schools.

"The generosity of the Mille Lacs Band and other Minnesota tribes proves that the Native traditions of sharing are alive and well, even in these difficult economic times," said John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA). "We are very proud of the great work MIGA tribes are doing all across the state."

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Gambling revenue is not the solution to Minnesota's budget problems, says an editorial in the February 11 Grand Forks Herald. Here is the complete text of the column:

By Tom Dennis, Grand Forks Herald

Some Minnesota lawmakers would like to use gambling as a way to help close the state’s $1.2 billion dollar deficit,” a Duluth, Minn., newscast reported.

A DFL senator from Chisholm, Minn., said slots in bars “would be a better alternative to cutting services or raising taxes.”

No, they wouldn’t.

For one thing, gambling revenue wouldn’t fill Minnesota’s multi-billion dollar deficit hole. It wouldn’t even come close. The state still would have to cut services and/or raise taxes. There is no other way.

More important, while gambling revenue in theory could offset some spending cuts and tax hikes, the reality is that the revenue would be just another dodge, just another “easy choice” for lawmakers desperate to avoid the tough choices needed to balance the budget.

Consider Nevada and New Jersey, states whose budgets depend heavily on gambling revenues. Surely Nevada, with its world-famous casinos and gigantic tourism industry, would have enough income to weather the economic storm. Right?

Wrong. “Nevada’s budget is so far out of balance that by one account, the state could lay off every worker paid from the general fund and still be $300 million in the red,” The Associated Press reported last week.

“The economic downturn has hit so hard that prisons may be closed, entire colleges shuttered and thousands left without jobs.”

Today in an emergency State of the State address, the governor of Nevada will announce massive budget cuts — so massive that “poor people eligible for free Medicaid health care no longer would receive eyeglasses, dentures, hearing aids or as many adult diapers,” the Las Vegas Review Journal reported.

As a previous governor said, “The lesson from the past 20 years is clear: Our revenue system is broken because it has relied on regressive and unstable (gambling) taxes.”

OK, how about New Jersey?

“Gov. Chris Christie will declare a state of fiscal emergency Thursday (today) and freeze $1.6 billion in unexpended funds, including $475 million that had been intended as school aid,” Gannett News Service reported Wednesday.

Nevada and New Jersey are not alone. Once upon a time, gambling revenue was thought to be recession proof, but the industry’s expansion across the country has made it much less of a sure thing. In state after state, gambling revenues are falling, failing to keep pace with not only government spending but also traditional tax revenue, the Rockefeller Institute of Government reported last year.

Spending on education and other programs “will generally grow more rapidly than gambling revenue over time,” the institute declared.

“Thus, new gambling operations that are intended to pay for normal increases in general state spending may add to, rather than ease, long-term budget imbalances.”

The institute titled its report, “No More Jackpot.”

Then there’s the fact that vital portions of Minnesota already depend on gambling revenue: the state’s Indian tribes. Expanding gambling statewide would slash the tribes’ revenues — revenues the tribes need to combat some of the state’s worst problems of poverty, unemployment and crime.

“When budgets get tight, expanding gambling always looks to lawmakers like the perfect quick-fix solution,” John Kindt, a University of Illinois professor who studies the impact of state-sponsored gambling, told The New York Times last year.

“But in the end, it so often proves to be neither quick nor a fix.”

That’s advice Minnesota should heed.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


In a commentary published today in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Mille Lacs Chief Executive warns that adding state-sponsored casinos at metro area racetracks will hurt her tribe and other rural casino operations. Here's the complete text of Anderson's column:

Marge Anderson: A metro-area casino would hurt the others

Gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton told reporters on Monday that if he is elected, he will push for a new casino in the Twin Cities that will share revenue with the state. "I don't see how this has any effect on any tribe, other than Mystic Lake," he said.

What Dayton is proposing is nothing new. From the moment that Minnesota's first tribal casinos began lifting tribes out of poverty, others have been trying to open up the state to privately owned casinos. But Dayton's reasoning -- that a new casino won't harm tribal casinos outside the metro area -- needs correcting.

Imagine if a lake the size of Mille Lacs, and with as many fish as Mille Lacs, were plopped into the metro area. Do you think that people in the Twin Cities would still flock to the real Mille Lacs Lake for fishing?

I think most of us would agree that people who used to drive north one or two hours to Mille Lacs would instead drive 15 minutes to the local lake to do their fishing. Mille Lacs would still be a great lake, but it would be in a less convenient location for most of the population. And that one strike against it would be impossible for many of the businesses around the lake to overcome.

This same reasoning applies to casinos.

Currently the biggest threats to Minnesota Indian gaming are proposed racinos at the Running Aces and Canterbury Park horsetracks in the Twin Cities -- just another iteration of the metro casino Dayton has in mind. Financial experts calculate the revenue losses at the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe's casinos -- Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Grand Casino Hinckley -- to be 30 percent to 40 percent if the racinos open. And these are just two of the state's 18 tribal casinos, many of which draw a significant portion of their visitors from the Twin Cities.

Some would say that tribal casinos would just need to become better competitors if a privately owned casino were to open in the Twin Cities. Of course we would do everything we could to compete; we already do. But location will always be a major factor in people's decisions, no matter how good we are otherwise.

Speaking for the Mille Lacs Band, our biggest issue with the racinos (and with a Twin Cities casino in general) is job loss. Rather than create new jobs, racinos would relocate thousands of jobs in rural communities to the metro area. The loser would be the people of rural Minnesota, where good jobs with benefits are as badly needed today as when Indian gaming was created. And just as a reminder, the state allowed Indian gaming in the first place to create jobs and boost the outstate economy.

Jobs aside, some people also have a false impression that if more casinos are built, more people will gamble. But studies show that Minnesota's gaming market is saturated. This means that overall, the people interested in gaming are already doing so. Neither racinos nor any other version of the same casino idea can force a market to grow. Any state leaders who envision money blowing through the Capitol's doors need a reality check.

Especially in today's challenging economy, casino revenues are no guarantee of wealth. That's why the majority of tribes are still working hard to bring their reservations out of poverty.

The Mille Lacs Band has made a lot of progress thanks to gaming revenues, and we do what we can to help band members, neighboring communities and local charities. But we still have significant unmet needs in comparison to the general population; we certainly haven't earned enough to make anyone wealthy.

Indian gaming is a proven, effective tool in meeting the need for outstate jobs and economic development without any state financial assistance. When so many problems today need fixing, why break a system that works?