Thursday, October 13, 2011


Minnesota's Indian tribes, viewed collectively, are the 6th largest employer in Minnesota, based on a list of the top 50 state employers published last week by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal.

MIGA Executive Director John McCarthy said that's a good reason for the state to avoid any actions that might put tribal jobs at risk. He was referring to recent proposals that would expand gambling to racetracks or other metro area locations, forcing substantial job cuts at tribal casinos as well as reductions in tribal government programs and services.

MIGA tribes directly employ 20,550 workers. That makes the tribes #6 among the state's ten largest employers. The "big ten" are:

#1: State of Minnesota, 40,208
#2: U.S. Federal Government, 34,000
#3: Mayo Foundation, 32,893
#4: Target Corp, 30,500
#5: Allina Health System, 23,302
#6: Wal-Mart Stores, 20,434
#7: Fairview Health Services, 20,434
#8: Wells Fargo Bank, 20,000
#9: University of MN, 19,157
#10: MN State Colleges and Universities, 18,516

Four of the top ten are taxpayer-supported or government institutions. Although Indian gaming is operated by tribal governments, it is not funded by Minnesota taxpayers.

Nearly three-fourths of the MIGA jobs--more than 16,000--are in rural Minnesota, which makes the jobs and benefits even more indispensable to the state's economy. MIGA Executive Director John McCarthy said, "The numbers are very clear--MIGA jobs are a huge factor in Minnesota's economy, especially in rural areas. The state should be looking for ways to preserve and protect those jobs, not put them at risk with bad policy decisions."

McCarthy noted that tribal jobs have been created and sustained at no cost to taxpayers. "No other job creation program in the history of the state has been as successful as Indian gaming," he said.

In addition, McCarthy said, despite reduced revenues due to the economic slowdown, tribes have made every effort to avoid lay-offs, making cuts in other budget areas in order to preserve the jobs and benefits that their employees depend on.

"Indian tribes are not like private businesses," he said. "They can't just pack up and move when things get tough. That's why they work so hard to be good neighbors and responsible employers. They're here for the long haul, so they're very committed to their local communities."

For these reasons, McCarthy concluded, state policy makers should avoid any actions that might compromise the ability of tribes to preserve existing jobs, especially in rural areas.

"If these lawmakers really care about jobs, they won't do anything that would force the state's 6th largest employer to eliminate good jobs with full benefits," he said. "No matter what gambling expansion scenario you look at, the bottom line is the same: tribal jobs in rural Minnesota will disappear, and they'll never be replaced. That doesn't help the State of Minnesota one bit."

For more information on the impact of tribal gaming in Minnesota, visit the MIGA website.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


On Wednesday (July 13), legislators from the Shakopee area held a news conference calling attention to the harm caused to employees of Canterbury Park and Running Aces by the state government shutdown. The tracks, which are regulated by state racing commissioners, have been closed since July 1 because they are not permitted to operate without regulatory oversight.

In response to the press conference, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe issued the following statement:

Following the press conference held today by Shakopee area lawmakers, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe wishes to express compassion for the many people whose jobs depend on the operation of Canterbury Park and Running Aces. The temporary closure of those tracks is a regrettable by-product of the state government shutdown, and we take no joy in their problems.

At the same time, the tracks’ temporary closure is completely separate from the issue of creating racinos at the tracks as an additional revenue source for state government. Racinos will merely shift existing jobs in rural Minnesota (where new job creation is extremely difficult) to the metro area. Racinos will create no net increase in economic development for Minnesota. And racinos will cause permanent damage to existing jobs and regional economies in many corners of the state.

The people connected to Canterbury Park and Running Aces do not deserve to have their livelihoods threatened by temporary government inaction. Similarly, the thousands of people and many communities throughout rural Minnesota whose livelihoods depend on tribal gaming should not be jeopardized by permanent government action.

The Mille Lacs Band hopes that Governor Dayton and the Legislature will resolve their differences soon and end the economic pain for the people employed by the tracks and others harmed by the shutdown. We also hope that they do not embrace racinos to solve a small piece of their budget differences, as that would only create deeper and more permanent pain in rural Minnesota.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, which owns Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Grand Casino Hinckley, estimates a loss of up to 40% in revenues should racino legislation pass. The Band’s two casinos directly employ approximately 3,000 people, of whom about 93% live in the rural Minnesota counties surrounding the casinos.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is a self-governing, federally recognized Indian tribe located in East Central Minnesota. The Band has more than 4,000 enrolled members, for whom it provides a wide variety of programs and services.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


A costly pro-racino ad campaign funded by Running Aces Harness Track is promising much more than two racinos actually could deliver for Minnesota, according to Chairman Kevin Leecy of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa in Northern Minnesota.

Leecy, speaking for the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, was responding to comments made by Running Aces spokesman John Derus recently on Fox9 News. In that broadcast, Derus debated the racino proposal with Senator Dave Thompson, an opponent of gambling expansion.

"Racino advocates speak as if racinos can solve the state's budget crisis," Leecy said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if their revenue projections were accurate, the racinos wouldn't even cover one-half of one-percent of the state's budget. That's not even a drop in the bucket, it's a drop in the ocean."

Leecy said the job creation claims of racino proponents are misleading and disingenuous. "If we create one job in the Twin Cities, and it costs two jobs in rural Minnesota, that's no net gain for the state," he said. "These rural gaming jobs are irreplaceable; what other employer is going to move to Tower or Virginia to create hundreds of good-paying jobs with full health and retirement benefits?"

The tribal job losses will be in tribal government as well as gaming operations, Leecy said. "We take a double hit when we lose revenues," he noted. "We are not only forced to cut jobs, but also to cut government programs that serve children and families."

Leecy said that claims about the benefits of the racino to Minnesota's agriculture economy have been greatly exaggeration. Fewer than two percent of Minnesota horses ever set foot on a racetrack, he noted, so the benefits of higher purses will be enjoyed by a small fraction of the state's horse owners.

"You don't hear much about it, but the biggest gainers from the racinos will be the shareholders of Canterbury Park and Running Aces," Leecy said. "A handful of investors will get the lion's share of the profits--and most of them don't even live in Minnesota."

The fact that Running Aces is spending money to run print and radio ads shows that they fear the racino has been taken off the table in state budget negotiations.

"Most people have figured out that these racino promises have been greatly over-sold and under-documented," Leedy said. "Hopefully, Governor Dayton and legislative leadership will see past the smoke and mirrors, and base their budget solutions on reality."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Today's (April 4) edition of the Star-Tribune carried MIGA's response to a recent column by Gary Larson, a "columnist" who is well known to Native Americans for his frequent racist rants and hate speech. Here's the full text of the response by John McCarthy, MIGA executive director.

It is sad to see that at least some of the support for gambling expansion comes from "old Indian fighters" whose trademark is hate speech against Native Americans.

The April 29 commentary by Gary Larson ("Indian gaming lobby and the DFL it props up prefer status quo") is a perfect example. The column is nothing but misinformation and race-baiting.

It is simply wrong to claim that tribal casinos are untaxed. In fact, they are taxed at a rate of 100 percent.

That means that all of the proceeds from tribal casinos go directly to the tribal governments that operate them. In this they are like the Minnesota Lottery, which is operated by the state, with all proceeds after prizes going to the state.

In both cases, government gaming proceeds are used to provide for the needs of citizens in areas like health care, education, economic development, housing, elder services, law enforcement, emergency services and infrastructure maintenance.

Larson conveniently ignores the fact that federal law prohibits states from taxing Indian tribes.

As sovereign governments equal to states under the Constitution, tribes have no legal obligation to pay state taxes. They certainly have no moral obligation either, given the sad history of tribal-state relations in Minnesota.

Non-Indians may forget that this state was the site of the largest mass execution in American history -- the hanging of 38 Sioux warriors at Mankato by order of President Abraham Lincoln.

Some Minnesotans may not even know that it was a Minnesota governor, Alexander Ramsey, who called for the extermination of all Sioux people. He placed bounties on their scalps in an effort to promote an Indian genocide.

Racism against Native Americans is an ugly but indisputable part of the historical record in Minnesota.

And we wonder why Native nations have no interest in bailing out state government?

Larson seems to believe that tribal contributions to Democrats are the main reason why racino bills have failed in the past. He's wrong again.

The truth is that opposition to gambling expansion is strong in both parties.

If Democrats were the only ones who opposed expansion, the racino would be a slam-dunk in this Republican-controlled Legislature -- but it's not. In fact, the state Republican platform includes an anti-expansion provision.

What apparently sticks in Larson's craw the most is that the tribal-state gaming compacts are perpetual. Again, his ignorance is showing.

Compacts are treaties, and yes, they are perpetual. They were not "hatched" by the DFL; in fact, it was Gov. Arne Carlson, a Republican, who signed the blackjack compacts in 1990.

The claim that racinos will create jobs is patently bogus. Racinos at Canterbury Park and Running Aces could mean the loss of as many as 3,000 jobs from Mystic Lake, Treasure Island, and the Grand Casinos at Mille Lacs and Hinckley.

Even more jobs will be lost if a third racino is authorized in Hibbing.

In addition to these lost jobs and the resulting economic harm to the surrounding communities, the loss of tribal revenues will force cutbacks in tribal government services.

For communities just beginning to see daylight after more than a century of darkness, this would be a cruel and inhumane loss of ground.

For people like Gary Larson, it's a win-win when Indians lose. It is sad that some Minnesotans still think like Alexander Ramsey.

Friday, April 29, 2011


The April 28 edition of the Star-Tribune carried a provocative commentary by Chaska Minister Gordon C. Stewart of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church. It is reprinted here in full:

Are we taxpayers or citizens? Taxpaying citizens?

The Legislature is considering revenue from expanded gambling as a way to fill the pothole in the state budget. Opponents and proponents have focused on everything but the underlying premise that created that pothole in the first place.

Slowly, over time, drip by drip, the foundations of the most basic assumption about who and what we are -- the language that made us a democratic republic -- has eroded, until today we can barely see the republic's shadow.

Once we defined ourselves as "citizens," responsible for ourselves and the common good. Now we define ourselves as "taxpayers." Once we were Minnesotans and Americans, responsible for paying the state's and nation's bills with the sweat of our brows.

Now we are possessors whose freedom to stare at a slot machine is assaulted by taxes. We are independent operators, free agents who might get lucky, who see taxes as evil. We look to the goodness of casinos, racinos, lottery tickets, slot machines and a gambling mentality to pay for the common life.What too often goes unsaid is that we are all tax beneficiaries.

Before I leave my home, I am a tax beneficiary. My water and sewerage, my electricity, my gas, my fire protection, the peace officer who patrols the neighborhood -- all are partly or totally paid for by taxation. Every time I drive somewhere on a public road, I am a tax beneficiary, dependent upon public services. Every time I shop for safe food or safe prescription drugs, or eat at a restaurant, I am a tax beneficiary every bit as much as I am a taxpayer.

We are all taxpayers. Everyone who lives in this country -- citizens and undocumentedmworkers alike -- pays taxes at the gas pump, at the store, etc. What the antitax mantra endorses is a privatization that sees me and mine independently from the rest of the society on which my daily life depends.

Those who decry being taxpayers, in fact, are either making the case that we should all be free-loaders -- tax beneficiaries who don't pay our fair share -- or that Minnesota and America should embrace a free market free-for-all, most fully expressed, perhaps, in the drug wars in Mexico.

Every time I hit a pothole, every time the streets go unplowed, every time essential services are cut back, all of us taxpayers lose the benefits of a nation that once defined us as responsible citizens.

The proposal to fill the pothole in Minnesota's budget with gambling is but the latest erosion in the sense of responsible citizenship. It threatens to turn the pothole into a political, economic and spiritual black hole.

It prolongs the illusion that real freedom is freedom from the responsibilities of citizenship. Drip by drip, it is turning us into a Third World nation where nobody but the blank-staring gamblers pay, and no one but the no-tax drug lords benefit.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Despite rain, cold winds and 40-degree temperatures, an estimated 3,000 tribal employees, tribal members and supporters gathered on the mall in front of the Minnesota State Capitol yesterday to highlight their concerns about potential tribal job losses if the state legislature authorizes slot machines at licensed racetracks in Minnesota. The “Don’t Gamble with Our Jobs” rally was organized by

the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA).

Rally participants came from every reservation in Minnesota, and from urban and rural communities across the state. More than 55 buses lined the streets near the capitol building as the event got underway.

Chairman Kevin Leecy of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa said the tribes felt it was important to show legislators how many people are worried about losing their jobs to state-sponsored competition.

“More than 40,000 people in Minnesota depend on tribal gaming, directly or indirectly, for their jobs,” Leecy said. “Some of us could be forced to lay off as much as one-third of our work force if we end up with state-sponsored racinos right in our own backyards.”

The racino bills currently under consideration place no limit on the number of licensed racetracks in Minnesota that could become racinos.

In addition to Chairman Leecy, speakers at the rally included Upper Sioux Community Chairman Kevin Jensvold, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Secretary-Treasurer Curt Calk, and Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Chairman Stanley Crooks. Legislators of both parties and several tribal casino employees made brief remarks.

Ernie Stevens, Jr., Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), also addressed the rally.

“Looking out at this great crowd, I see Indian and non-Indian people standing side by side, fighting for their jobs in tribal gaming,” Stevens said. “We thank you for being here, and for supporting the great work that these tribes are doing for their own communities and for their neighbors. We’re all in this together.”

Chairman Stanley Crooks of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community closed the program by thanking participants, and expressing special gratitude to the employees of his own tribe who were present.

“Without you, we would never be able to do the things we do,” said Crooks. “Over the years you have not worked for us but with us. We are so thankful for your loyalty and support.”

MIGA Executive Director John McCarthy said no matter what form gambling expansion takes in Minnesota, the state’s Indian tribes will be hurt.

“Minnesota is a mature gaming market, with very little room for growth,” McCarthy said. “That means the state-sponsored casinos will just shift existing business away from tribal facilities. When tribes start losing revenue, they’ll not only have to lay off employees, but they’ll also have to cut essential programs and services for their members. It’s a lose-lose situation for tribal governments and Native American families, as well as our gaming and government workers.”

A hearing on the House racino bill was set for yesterday, but postponed due to the illness of the committee chairman. Tribal representatives are expected to testify as House and Senate versions of various expansion bills work their way through the legislative process in the coming weeks.

“We’re fighting an uphill battle, but the tribes are used to being in that position,” McCarthy wryly observed. “Somebody’s always after us, it seems.”


Rally Speakers

Former Rep. Frank Moe, Master of Ceremonies

Rep. Roger Crawford (R), Mora

Rep. Paul Thissen (D), Minneapolis

Sen. Tom Bakk (D), Cook

Sen. John Howe (R), Redwing

Rep. Tim Mahoney (D), St. Paul

Rep. Lyle Koenen (D), Clara City

Rep. Tony Lourey (D), Kerrick

Chairman Kevin Leecy, Bois Forte Band of Chippewa

Chairman Kevin Jensvold, Upper Sioux Indian Community

Chairman Stanley Crooks, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community

Curt Kalk, Secretary-Treasurer, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe

Beth Hanley, Grand Casino (Mille Lacs Band) employee

Robbie Sawyer, Grand Casino (Mille Lacs Band) employee

Richard Hermanson, Prairies Edge Casino (Upper Sioux) employee

Ernie Stevens, Jr., Chairman, National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA)

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Tribal employees, vendors and supporters will hold a "Don't Gamble With Our Jobs" rally on the steps of the State Capitol on Tuesday (April 26) at 1 pm. The event is designed to highlight the fears of thousands of tribal employees who could lose their jobs if the legislature adopts any of the gambling expansion proposals now on the table.

Tribal leaders and legislators of both parties will make brief remarks during the event. Former State Representative Frank Moe will serve as master of ceremonies.

Proposals to authorize racinos at racetracks and slots in neighborhood bars have the potential to cause huge revenue losses to Indian tribes, said John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA).

"These proposals are job-killers, especially for rural Minnesota," McCarthy said. "Once the legislature opens the expansion floodgates, thousands of tribal employees will lose their jobs and benefits. That's why they're coming to the Capitol on Tuesday--they want the legislature and the public to understand what's really at stake in this expansion debate."

Thursday, March 31, 2011


The March 26 edition of the Winona Daily News carried a strongly worded editorial opposing proposed racino legislation in Minnesota. Here's the full text of the column:

Our view: ‘Racino’ idea no solution, potential problem

Call it a racino to the bottom.

On Monday, legislators introduced the ballyhooed “racino” legislation that would permit slot machines at the two racetracks.

Some legislators say it’s a $125 million fix toward the state’s deficit.

Yet, GOP lawmakers don’t want to send the money to fix the deficit problem. It would go toward a special account that would create jobs and be the province of the state’s economic development agency.

For so many reasons, this legislation is deeply flawed and should be killed soon.

First, this legislation does nothing to help the state’s massive financial problems. Any new revenue needs to go to patching the gaping budget hole that exists in St. Paul.

Secondly, how the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development would use the funds to create jobs is about as haphazard and unknown as it could be. There are no plans, guidelines and policies. And, if the “racino” money is anything like the JOBZ accounting, as soon as the money is collected, accountability will stop.

Finally, the estimate of $125 million is fanciful. It’s only estimated, and there could be a lot less since slot machine gaming is already legal and established. The novelty has to be limited since slot machines are available elsewhere in the state.

Let’s be clear: While we don’t oppose gambling, balancing budgets on the back of gaming revenue is certainly ethically suspect. In other words, we should think long and hard about making up deficits or funding new programs on the backs of those who may have a gaming addiction.

It’s not that we should prohibit or ban gaming because that only drives it underground. But adding more gaming, especially in fragile economic times is questionable.

Finally, we’d suggest that Minnesota strongly consider the effects of gaming creep.

One need look no further than a few states away to Montana, or even South Dakota where electronic gaming has been made legal.

In the Treasure State of Montana, there is hardly a cafe, restaurant or gas station that doesn’t have a few slot machines clanging, buzzing or flashing.

They are a nuisance and eyesore, yet now well-established source of state revenue.

It’s become like crack cocaine for the Legislature. Now hooked, it can’t hardly quit.

And that’s the danger of expanded gaming. Right now, those who want to gamble have to make a serious effort to visit the casinos.

That’s fine.

But make it too easy and gaming becomes a community scourge. Make it too easy and it becomes a stream of revenue St. Paul will be forever addicted to.

This legislation solves a problem that simply doesn’t exist.

Lawmakers would do well to listen to John McCarthy of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association. “Once this door is open, it doesn’t close,” he told the Star Tribune.

That’s not just a man protecting his own interests, that’s a man who understands the business of casinos.

They are experts.

Minnesota needs to leave this door closed.

By Darrell Ehrlick, editor, on behalf of the Winona Daily News editorial board, which also includes publisher Rusty Cunningham and deputy editor Jerome Christenson.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


The top official of a conservative Minnesota think tank has called the campaign to expand gambling "a crusade for bigger government." The March 26 edition of the Star-Tribune featured a guest column by Freedom Foundation CEO Annette Meeks. Meeks challenged the basic assumption that gambling expansion would produce significant benefits for the state. Here's the complete text.

More gambling good for Minnesota? Certainly not!
by Annette Meeks, CEO, Freedom Foundation, and Board Member, CAGE (Citizens Against Gambling Expansion)

Minnesotans live in interesting times. In fact, as our elected officials in St. Paul get down to the business of passing a balanced budget, I'm guessing they wish their task were a bit less interesting -- maybe $5billion less interesting.

Our unprecedented fiscal challenges are likely to force state and local governments to the brink of what could be a radical makeover of what government does, doesn't do and how we pay for it. I believe that's a good thing, a conversation long overdue.

Voters sent a message last November, calling for less but more transparent government. With nearly every budget hemorrhaging red ink, policymakers have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shrink the size and scope of government. Yet after two months of the legislative session, an alarming number of lawmakers in both parties continue their crusade for bigger government, including an expansion of gambling.

Many legislators are wedded to the idea that gaming provides free money for state coffers. Yet many states have crossed the gambling Rubicon and have found that the game has changed. What looked like a good idea just a few years ago isn't working now. The list of disappointments is long and growing.

In Kansas, of four casino licenses sold in 2007 when the legislature in that state expanded gambling, only one casino has been built. After three years, the state has brought in just $13.5 million. Adding to this fiscal disappointment, the Kansas treasury had to return $75 million in "privilege fees" paid by casino developer Harrah's, which backed out of its commitments.

Even the state's racetrack owners have all turned down the opportunity to add slot machines, saying it's just not worth it. In Illinois, gambling revenues are down as much as 30 percent since 2008, but policymakers there still hope to hit it big. First, they bet on slot machines in bars, and when that failed the test of local voter approval, they started peddling more casino licenses.

Yet, in terms of sheer hubris, it's hard to compete with Pennsylvania. The Keystone State has lined its New York and New Jersey borders with casinos and dreams of tripling the 24,000 machines it currently operates. Pennsylvania gambling officials recently had to return $50 million in "privilege fees" to the Foxwoods Casino Management Group for a casino promised three years ago but never built.

One Pennsylvania casino has actually asked for permission to reduce the number of slot machines it operates. When Lesley Stahl of CBS' "60 Minutes" asked Pennsylvania's then-Gov. Ed Rendell about the predatory nature of slot machines, he became agitated, calling her and her producers "simpletons" and "idiots" because they didn't understand gambling. He went on to say that Pennsylvanians "would lose their money anyway."

Many Minnesota policymakers seem to believe that more gambling in Minnesota will somehow avoid the problems other states have seen. It won't be easy.

Take, for example, the once-booming charitable gambling industry in Minnesota that is now in a death spiral of demographics, competition, and economic and social change. The proposed solution? Ten slot machines in any liquor-licensed establishment that currently offers charitable gambling. That means 25,000 clanging machines spread across every neighborhood of Minnesota. In some rural communities, slot machines would easily outnumber residents.

Sadly, these small-town mini-casinos would continue to draw their profits from the pockets of local citizens and would likely add to Minnesota's unemployment when the local charitable gambling business was completely replaced by automated slots.

The racino crowd is back at it, too, betting the farm that Minnesotans want slot machines at our racetracks, promising to save the horse industry if only they had slot machines. Here's a sure bet: Slot machines at Canterbury Park and Running Aces are guaranteed to make one group rich quick -- the tracks' current owners. Interestingly, Running Aces' windfall will go to its out-of state owners.

Racinos in other states have proven that slot machines do little to help the slowly dying horse-racing industry. And most important: A racino monopoly will do little or nothing to help balance the state's budget deficit.

The list of gambling dreams goes on. Recently, the new owner of Block E in downtown Minneapolis decided to go "all in" by proposing to tear down the nine-year-old building and replace it with a Monte Carlo-like, upscale, 24-hour casino.

Not to be outdone, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board proposed another horse-racing track with slots in its neck of the woods. Perhaps this could be built adjacent to the poorly conceived Ironworld center, thus saving taxpayers the extra expense of eventually having to separately shutter two failing facilities.

Yet gambling, especially "convenience gambling," comes with a hefty cost, both to local governments who must handle the criminal prosecutions that result when problem gamblers resort to crime as a method of financing their addiction, as well as to families, many of whom suffer in silence.

Robert Goodman, author of "The Luck Business," writes that "each problem gambler costs society from $13,000 to $52,000 per year." According to a compulsive gambling counseling center, "after casinos opened in Atlantic City, the total number of crimes [committed] within a 30-mile radius increased 100 percent." Earlier this year, the list of Pennsylvanians who have voluntarily "self-excluded" or banned themselves from their new "convenience casinos" topped 2,000.

The real face of gambling addiction is often found in tragic stories that unfold in our court systems. Last December, the U.S. Senate, for only the eighth time in American history, impeached a federal judge in Louisiana who acknowledged that he had a serious gambling addiction that led him to accept bribes from lawyers and to lie to Congress.

After Pennsylvania supersized its state-sponsored gambling, Mike O'Neill, a tax collector in Jenkintown, embezzled nearly a quarter of a million in taxpayers' money to gamble at casinos "around the corner." Gambling "changed me, who I was," O'Neill said at his sentencing. He lost his wife, his son, his home, all of his money and his dignity.

His lawyer said his addiction became out of control "when he could go to a casino on a daily basis." Indeed, the lawyer continued, "I talked to all Mike's friends, and no one knew he gambled." Sadly, Gov. Rendell and other gambling proponents weren't in court when O'Neill was sentenced.

Nor were any Minnesota gambling proponents around a few weeks back when a former auditor in the Minnesota Department of Revenue pleaded guilty to defrauding taxpayers out of nearly $2 million to satisfy her self-confessed "gambling addiction." And just last week, a Catholic church in Hudson, Wis., announced it had ousted a priest who had stolen some $10,000 in charity funds to support his gambling habit.

Rather than gambling on ways to increase revenue coming into state coffers, legislators should accept this worthy challenge and reduce the size and scope of state government.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


A March 21 blog by internationally recognized Indian gaming law experts Kathryn R.L. Rand and Steven Andrew Knight, co-directors of the Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law and Policy at the University of North Dakota, urges Minnesota legislators to think carefully before adopting gambling policies that might harm rural areas of the state. Here's what Rand and Knight had to say:

Racino Legislation in Minnesota

Minnesota lawmakers once again will consider the expansion of legalized gambling in the state. Today, Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, along with Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, and Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, are expected to introduce legislation that will authorize gaming machines at two race tracks. The proposed racinos locations are gaming devices at Running Aces, along Interstate 35 near Forest Lake, and Shakopee’s Canterbury Park. While the two horse parks already can offer poker and gaming tables, the addition of slot machines would put them in direct competition with tribal casinos.

Canterbury Park is near the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community's highly successful Mystic Lake Casino. Both Canterbury Park and Running Aces are a short drive from the Twin Cities area of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and in closer proximity than several other nearby tribal casinos.

The legislation is being posited as a solution to Minnesota's $5 billion projected budget deficit. And while some are raising concerns that tribal casinos will be hurt, those supporting the legislation maintain that the competition will be healthy. This morning on Minnesota Public Radio, the chief lobbyist working on the legislation, former state Senator Dick Day suggested that Minnesotans would want competition for tribal casinos, incorrectly implying that tribal casinos do little for the state's economy because there is no tribal-state revenue sharing provision in the Minnesota compacts.

Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, which opposes the proposed legislation, has more accurate information about the economic impact of tribal casinos. And, for what it's worth, Minnesota is not the only state without direct revenue sharing. It may be the only state that has a lucrative tribal gaming market and no revenue sharing, but it's important to remember that Minnesota's lucrative market is only in the Twin Cities area. The northern part of the state is rural, and the tribal casinos there more closely resemble those in North Dakota and South Dakota. According to MIGA, the proposed legislation "could do serious harm to tribal gaming and the jobs and benefits that thousands of tribal employees rely on. Expanding gambling at the expense of Indian tribes doesn't just affect the casinos; it affects the ability of tribal governments to provide the programs and services that Indian communities rely on--education, health care, housing, child and elder care, and vital infrastructure."

And that's worth thinking about. Under the proposed legislation, the Minnesota State Lottery would operate the machines, and the revenue would be earmarked for "economic development," as determined by the state legislature. When asked whether the revenue could be used for a new Vikings stadium, Day said it could, but it would be up to the state legislature to decide.

We think the state legislature should weigh the benefits of tribal gaming not only to the state, but to those folks who need it most. We think the state legislature should pay attention to the role tribal gaming plays in building strong and healthy reservation communities. There's no doubt that the state is in a budget crisis -- but proposals to expand legalized gambling must be considered in the context of the socio-economic impact of tribal gaming on some of our state's poorest residents.


Bet the Nag: Racino as a Policy Distraction

The Racino Bill was recently introduced in the State Legislature. Again. This time, it’s touted as a job creation measure but that hasn’t always been the case. Racino offers state policymakers a remarkably elastic legislative instrument, serving whatever purpose is required. Far more than creating jobs, Racino creates a public policy distraction.

Since at least 2003, some version of Racino has been introduced, authorizing Minnesota race tracks to expanding gambling beyond betting on the ponies. The term “racino” is an amalgamation of “racing” and “casino.” Since Canterbury Park, the Shakopee horse racing track and highest profile non-tribal gaming operation in Minnesota, already offers a 50-table card game room, gaming expansion really means slot machines. They’re the low-overhead, high profit-margin path to separating fools from their money.

Racino advocates claim that expanded gaming will create 3,500 jobs and generate $125 million in public revenue. Opponents note that few “new” jobs will grow; more likely, jobs will simply shift from existing tribal-owned casinos to non-tribal, privately-owned racinos.

$125 million per year, in the context of a $5.2 billion budget deficit, is a drop in the bucket. It’s not going to fundamentally rescue Minnesota’s economy. Bill sponsors propose restricting revenue to “economic development” without specifying what kind of economic development. A very rough calculation reveals that $125 million falls in line with the public debt-servicing required of a new professional football stadium. I’m not saying that will happen; just that it could be a potential revenue use. Stadium debt service isn’t quite the same as adequately financing Minnesota’s schools, healthcare, roads or real job creation.

Suddenly, we’ve tipped into Racino’s true purpose: distracting Minnesotans from what really matters. Conservative policymakers are most interested in preserving the “no new taxes” policy measures that financially favor Minnesota’s highest income earners. Rather than funding schools, affordable healthcare, good roads and creating job-growing economic development, conservative policymakers need to redirect the public’s attention. In this regard, it’s a remarkably successful, if politically dubious, strategy.

Rather than create real jobs, conservative policymakers are simply working to preserve tax policy that allows Minnesota’s highest income earners to pay a lower percentage of income tax than 9 of 10 Minnesotans pay. In economic development policy terms, the Racino proposal is the policy equivalent of rearranging the Titanic’s deck chairs. Whatever their configuration, they won’t stop the ship from sinking. Instead, Minnesota needs public policy focused on schools, healthcare, roads and jobs; the things that move Minnesota forward.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Minnesota citizens are speaking out against the racino, and giving their legislators an earful. According to statistics from the MIGA Website Action Center, more than 100 Minnesotans have emailed Governor Dayton and their local legislators with messages over the past 24 hours opposing the racino and other proposed forms of gambling expansion. Many of those messages have been targeted to Sen. Claire Robling and Rep. Michael Beard, who represent District 35, where the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is located. Robling is a strong supporter of the racino.

The media are hearing from racino opponents, too. The March 12 edition of the Prior Lake American carried a powerful letter to the editor from Ted Guth, a savvy Prior Lake resident, who raised some important points about the racino proposal. Here's the complete text of Ted's letter as published.

If racino is a must, money’s not Zygi’s

In response to the racino story appearing in last week’s Prior Lake American, I felt the need to offer my opinions relative to racino and the intended use of racino tax money.

Some people aren’t excited about the proposition of expanded gambling. On the other hand, some people think that $125 million racino dollars flowing into the depleted general fund would be nice. Although I have lived in Prior Lake for many years, I have never stepped inside of the Mystic Lake Casino. Quite frankly, I am not a big supporter of gambling, either tribal or other forms of state licensed gambling. That said, I would like to offer two opinions I formed after reading the article.

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) will be hurt by the state Legislature approving a racino at Canterbury Park. I don’t think enough recognition and credit is given to the SMSC/Mystic Lake for what I see as non-gambling expansion of their facilities. They have spent millions of their own dollars expanding non-gambling entertainment such as concert arenas, health clubs, indoor skating rinks, golf courses, RV camping facilities, restaurants and more.

State and local economies have benefited from the SMSC providing both construction jobs and permanent employment. Many residents of this area enjoy these non-gambling facilities. I doubt very much if Canterbury Park or Running Aces Harness Park have any intentions of duplicating the SMSC’s non-gambling amenities. The SMSC has done nothing wrong. The only thing they are guilty of is responding to the public’s desire to be entertained, and satisfying this desire by spending their own money and growing their enterprise.

I strongly oppose any racino tax money used to fund the construction of a Vikings stadium. As a Republican, I have supported Sen. Claire Robling in each election; however, I disagree with her desire to “skim” racino tax proceeds and give it to the Vikings. I would happy to show Robling many examples of other essential needs and services currently suffering after another round of budget cutting. I can’t believe it’s in the best interest of the citizens to fund a Vikings stadium while reducing the funding of health and human services, aid to local governments, transportation, etc.

The article said, “A 2010 Survey USA poll found that 80 percent of 500 Minnesota adults surveyed approve of a racino proposal.” I hope Robling isn’t confused by this poll and think that those who support a racino want its tax used to fund a Vikings stadium. In reality, 75 percent of taxpayers do not want public funds being used for the construction of a Vikings stadium.

If and when expansion of state licensed gambling is allowed, the money should go directly into the state general fund. After that, this money should be redistributed to fund the necessary and essential services throughout the Minnesota. Potential racino tax proceeds belong to the citizens of Minnesota, not Zygi Wilf and his business associates from New Jersey.

Ted Guth, Prior Lake MN

Saturday, March 19, 2011


For many Indian tribes, their casinos are not only their primary revenue source, but also among the largest employers in the counties where they are located. A February 20 article in the Duluth News-Tribune highlighted the commitment of one tribe to protecting its employees as well as its tribal members from recession-related cuts. Here's the whole story:

Fond du Lac band shows resolve amid recession
The Fond du Lac Band rode out a difficult economy in 2010, avoiding layoffs, erecting new buildings and increasing spending.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune

The year 2010 was a stable one for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa — good news, leaders say, considering the rough shape of the

“We really havenʼt had revenue growth … but there was a conscious choice not to do any work force reductions,” said Karen Diver, chairwoman of the five-person Reservation Business Committee, the bandʼs governing body. “We didnʼt want to have our employees … and band members feel the brunt if we could carry that.”

The band, one of the largest employers in the region with more than 2,000 workers, “kept a large part of Northeastern Minnesota working at a time when that
wasnʼt the norm for the area,” Diver said. “Even a small change in our activities would have a large impact.”

Even as revenue declined, the Fond du Lac Band moved forward on projects, completing a natural resources building, several housing complexes and a
drug treatment center expansion.
Some positions went unfilled last year, but the band spent $182 million — including payroll and membership payments. In 2009 it spent less than $160 million.

Diver noted that the bandʼs operations encompass government services as well as sand and gravel, lumber and construction businesses, and that more than
half of the bandʼs employees work in non-casino jobs.

The chairwoman, entering the last year of a four-year term, gave a State of the Band address to members last week, an annual event she began three years
ago. In it, she highlighted accomplishments for 2010, including:

  • The completion of a 22,000-square-foot natural resources building, 24 units of supportive housing, an assisted-living facility and an expanded meth and prescription drug treatment center. Federal stimulus money helped pay for some of the projects.
  • The natural resources building — paid for in part with a loan from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community — is on track for gold-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. It will be the first building in Carlton County to be designated LEED-certified. Solar panels, a green roof, reclaimed wood and other recycled materials adorn the building, which also houses the tribal court. It was needed for the bandʼs extensive conservation and environmental work and accommodates 60 employees.
  • The supportive housing complex, three townhome structures circling a community building, is one of only two of its kind in Indian Country, Diver said. To live there, members must prove homelessness and are assigned to case workers. The workers provide social services and help residents become self-sufficient. Filling the townhomes cut the bandʼs waiting list for housing by 10 percent. It now sits at about 240 people.
  • The new drug treatment center, meant for court-ordered and voluntary clients, has room for 40 people. Thatʼs 15 more than before, Diver said.
The band finished its first reservation-wide direction-planning effort. Members want the band to promote more self-sufficiency, personal responsibility for things like jobs, and more emphasis on Ojibwe language and culture.

The band was approved for more power for its new radio station, WGZS. “Giizis” is “moon” in Ojibwe. The station is set to debut in August. Reach will extend
to the Iron Range, into Duluth and down to Moose Lake.

Services were added to the bandʼs tribal court, including those for marriages, name changes, domestic partnerships, divorces and small claims. The band is

working toward adding business services to encourage investment on the reservation, and a wellness court.

The bandʼs involvement in mining issues continued with its work as a federally appointed cooperating agency for the proposed PolyMet mine near Babbitt. A
new environmental plan is in the works, partly because of work the bandʼs environmental staff did to show the original plan was inadequate.

“We didnʼt oppose PolyMet or mining,” said Ferdinand Martineau, secretary/treasurer of the band. “We opposed the way they wanted to do it.”
The band is working to protect the Lake Superior watershed.


This year, the band hopes to resolve legal issues with the city of Duluth regarding Fond-du-Luth Casino profits and determine what a new contract with the
city will look like. The current one is set to expire in April.

In 2009 the band stopped paying the city casino revenue because it said it wasnʼt getting a fair return in services. The city filed a lawsuit and the band filed a
counter-claim. A U.S. District Court later ruled the band must abide by the 1994 agreement. The issue continues to move through the legal system. The band and city have yet to negotiate terms of a new contract. Diver said the lawsuit and a new contract are separate issues.

The band also hopes to raise casino revenue, which is well below pre-recession levels, Diver said. On average, people spent $80 per trip to the casino
before the recession and now spend $55 to $60 per trip, Martineau said. “But if people can only afford to spend $50, thatʼs great,” he said. “We advocate people staying within their budgets.”

The tribal council is encouraged by feedback it has received from band members.
When a tough policy was enacted in 2008 on felony-level violence and drug offenses, band members were supportive. But the tribal council wasnʼt sure how they would react to its enforcement — which can mean loss of tribal housing and banishment.

“Over the last two years weʼve used it half a dozen times,” Martineau said. “Every single time there was push from the community: ʻWhat are you going to
do?ʼ” The response, Diver said, highlights a piece of Anishinaabe culture.

“When you make bad choices, it affects the rest of us,” she said. “Your success is a blessing, so give the best you can give. Weʼre responsible to each other.”

Friday, March 18, 2011


The staff counsel for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) has spoken out in response to a recent racino story that appeared in several southern Minnesota newspapers. Here is William J. Hardacker's commentary:

With coverage of the racino issue in local papers it is officially confirmed that the annual racino sales pitch is in full swing. Perhaps, it should be called what it is, a sales scam. At least, three-fourths of the “correspondent’s” reporting in one article which ran in several local papers directly supports the racino proposal.

The author quotes five people who support putting slot machines at Canterbury. How many people are quoted offering any number of reasonable arguments opposing racino? Yes, readers, you guessed it: zero. One must ask whether the paper’s editor was drowsy when the story got filed. These newspapers might as well turn the editor’s job over to Canterbury’s public relations firm.

Stories about the racino are full of the same misleading messages used for many years now by the Canterbury shill machine. No one is contradicting their account of the issue. There are two sides to every story, a fact which is overlooked when it comes to the racino or any expansion of gambling in Minnesota.

First, the addition of slot machines at Canterbury is a qualitative expansion of gambling. It would dramatically alter the make-up of who provides what types of games. Simply ask the question: how would Canterbury feel if the SMSC commenced operations of numerous poker rooms and pari-mutuel horse racing at Mystic Lake Casino?

Second, the tribal governments do not have a “monopoly” on gaming in Minnesota. The gaming market is already divided in a way that brings revenue to the various operators. Canterbury has horse racing and a multitude of card games. The state government operates a diverse array of lottery games. Charities and bars sell pull tabs and can offer poker. Bingo halls are easy to locate throughout the state. And the tribal governments operate video slots and blackjack pursuant to the tribal-state compacts. There are plenty of gambling options in Minnesota today. No one has a monopoly on gaming.

Third, the approval of slot machines for the horse racing tracks will kill jobs. The gaming market in Minnesota is over 20 years in the making and is a mature market. There are very few, if any, new gamblers in Minnesota waiting to spend money only if there are slots at Canterbury. The expansion of gambling will not increase gambling revenues statewide, it will only siphon revenues from the tribal governments, the lottery, and charities. For every job created at a racino, there will be at least four or five jobs killed at a tribal facility.

Fourth, racino proponents ignore the fact that projected revenues of $125 million will barely impact the overall state government deficit of nearly $6 billion. Also, projections of racino revenues do not take into account the cost of appropriate and effective regulation of those operations and do not take into account the likely competitive response from the tribal governments and the state lottery. It may cost a lot more for Canterbury to hit its projections.

Stories also include inaccurate information. One figure often reported as fact is that the tribal governments in Minnesota net about $1.4 billion annually from gaming. This number is alleged by Racino Now’s Dick Day; it is not based in fact and is conveniently overblown. Also, there are presently 23 lobbyists working for the expansion of gambling which do not include the lobbyists for the Minnesota Vikings who support a gambling proposal if the revenues from it are used to pay for a new stadium.

Finally, [reporter] Adams provides no opposing view on the suggested benefits to the horse racing industry. The equine industry might have a positive economic impact in Minnesota but horse racing is a fraction of the entire equine industry. And Minnesotans might remember that card club revenues were supposed to save the horse racing industry in Minnesota. If card club revenue was not enough to save horse racing, why would anyone believe that slots revenues will save it? Nationwide attendance at horse tracks is down as are monies wagered even at tracks with casino games added. And if a failed business model like horse racing can get bailed out by slot machines, why would the legislature stop there? The pressure will be on to authorize slot machines throughout the state. And then Minnesota will be more like Nevada and South Dakota than the Minnesota we know.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


The Chairman of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa has expressed concern that the push for slot machines at racetracks in Minnesota could lead to a racino in his tribal casino's backyard.

Chairman Kevin Leecy said a proposed racino in Hibbing could cost hundreds of jobs at Fortune Bay Casino in Tower. His comments appeared in the March 8 edition of the Duluth News Tribune. The Hibbing racino is one of as many as four that would be authorized if the Minnesota Legislature passes a bill allowing slot machines at state racetracks.

Here's what Chairman Leecy had to say:

Racino would steal existing jobs

The recession that has pounded our country and our communities might finally be abating, but a new threat to regional jobs is brewing. And this threat is originating right here at home.

A group of private developers wants to put a combined racetrack and casino — a “racino” — in Hibbing on land owned by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. The IRRRB recently granted the group a four-year option to purchase more than 600 acres (“Casino, racetrack sought for Range,” Feb. 24).

Backers of the project touted the jobs they said the racino would create. What they failed to point out was that these hypothetical jobs would come at the expense of hundreds of existing ones.

That’s because the racino wouldn’t create new gamers. Instead, it would draw them away from places like Fortune Bay Resort Casino, which employs 500 people in our region. The majority of these men and women are non-Indians.

Chances are good you know someone who works for Fortune Bay; the resort casino is the largest nonmining employer in Northeastern Minnesota. You probably also have met someone who works for one of the many companies that supply Fortune Bay with products and services.

In its 24 years of operation, Fortune Bay has done more than provide good-paying jobs with excellent benefits. Fortune Bay partners with local business groups to encourage tourism to the entire region. The Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, which owns and operates Fortune Bay, invests gaming revenues in tribal government programs, services, and construction and infrastructure projects that serve and employ Indians and non-Indians. The band and Fortune Bay contribute to a wide range of charitable organizations and causes. And despite the ongoing recession, Fortune Bay has not laid off a single employee.

Would a racino have a similar commitment to this community? Though its current backers may be local, that could change. Big Las Vegas operations like Harrah’s and MGM can — and do — buy out local ventures. Investors take the cash, and a racino is left in the hands of absentee owners.

Fortune Bay and other locally owned businesses have invested in the success of this region. It is our home as well as yours, and the money we earn goes back into our communities. We want to work with our neighbors to generate more jobs and strengthen our economy, rather than fight to protect jobs we already created.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Supporters looking for current news from MIGA now can stay connected via Twitter. Tweeting as @mnindiangaming, the association is posting MIGA news, legislative updates, and links to news coverage about gambling and expansion experiences in other states.

"It's important for Minnesotans to understand the experience of other states that have relied on VLTs, casinos and racinos for revenue," said MIGA Executive Director John McCarthy. "Every day, the failure of gambling to solve state fiscal problems is making news somewhere. The people here have a right to know about those situations."

Thursday, February 17, 2011


The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA) has issued an Action Alert asking tribal employees, vendors and supporters to urge their state senators to oppose SF174 and SF 308, two bills that would authorize slot machines in more than 2,500 bars and restaurants across Minnesota.

MIGA issued its alert today in response to last week's introduction of two neighborhood gambling bills in the Minnesota Senate. MIGA Executive Director John McCarthy said either measure would do immeasurable harm to Indian gaming and change the face of Minnesota neighborhoods forever.

SF 174, authored by Sen. Michelle Fischbach (SD14) would authorize up to ten slot machines (VLTs) in any liquor-licensed establishment that now offers charitable gambling, more than 2,500 locations statewide. Electronic bingo and pulltab machines would also be permitted.

SF 308, authored by Sen. Ingebrigtsen (SD11), would authorize up to 5 slots in these 2,500-plus locations.

Both SF 174 and SF 308 would mean a huge expansion of gambling in Minnesota. The number of gambling venues would skyrocket from 19 destination casinos to more than 2,500 locations statewide. The number of slot machines available to gamblers would explode as well—from around 21,000 now to nearly 50,000, depending on which bill ultimately wins passage. It’s a regulatory and enforcement nightmare.

Under either bill, Indian gaming would suffer serious harm. Minnesota’s rural casinos, especially those in more remote areas, rely largely on their local markets for survival. If hundreds of mini-casinos open their doors in those markets, the tribes will suffer huge revenue losses. That means job cuts, cutbacks in vendor spending, tax revenue losses, and increased costs for counties and the state. The state couldn’t pick a more destructive approach if it deliberately set out to wipe out the gains tribes have made over the past two decades.

McCarthy also noted that Minnesota bars and eateries will be installing machines, not hiring more people. Neighborhood gambling is not labor intensive, so the jobs lost at tribal casinos will never be offset by new job creation in bars and restaurants.

"There's no such thing as a free lunch," McCarthy concluded. "Legislators need to hear from the thousands of people who work in tribal gaming and government. They need to hear from the thousands of Minnesota companies that sell goods and services to tribes. They need to hear from elected officials who recognize the value of Indian gaming to their local economies. There's a cost to putting these tribal businesses at risk--a huge cost. Our legislators need to hear that side of the story."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Racinos at Canterbury Park and Running Aces Harness Track offer no jackpot for Minnesota, says MIGA Executive Director John McCarthy in an opinion commentary published in today's Bemidji Pioneer.

McCarthy accused racino advocates of using "bogus arguments and inflated claims" to mislead Minnesotans about the supposed benefits of the racino proposals. He was responding to a previously published commentary by John Derus, a former elected official currently employed by the Running Aces Harness Track to promote its racino effort. Here's what McCarthy wrote:

"The February 11 column by John Derus, a paid advocate for the racino, presents bogus arguments and inflated claims about the benefits of racinos at the state’s two racetracks. What Derus doesn’t talk about in his column is the high cost of this proposal to Indian tribes, rural economies and ultimately, the state itself.

"Racino proponents claim that their proposal to add slots to racetracks will generate $125 million a year for the state. What they don’t tell Minnesotans is that this amount represents less than two-tenths of one percent of the state’s $6.2 billion deficit. That isn’t even a drop in the bucket; it’s a drop in the ocean.

"They also fail to mention that slot machine revenues have fallen far short of projections in most states, including Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, and Montana. Those states are now scrambling to plug the budget holes left by these shortfalls. Gambling is an unreliable source of budgeted revenue.

"Predictably, Derus hauled out the old “level playing field” chestnut. Whenever tribes have had something of value, the dominant society has destroyed or seized it in the name of “leveling the playing field.” Here we go again. Tribes have barely had an opportunity to get in the game, and others are looking to change the rules of the playing field and undo their progress.

"Derus claims that the state would get “100 percent of the new gaming tax.” That’s very deceptive. In fact, the racino is likely to be taxed at a rate of 30 to 50 percent, depending on the proposal. The remaining 50 to 70 percent of revenue will go to the wealthy investors that own the two tracks. In the case of Running Aces, those shareholders don’t even live in Minnesota.

"In contrast, tribal casinos are taxed at a rate of 100 percent, meaning that all casino revenues go to tribal governments to pay for housing, human services, health care, education, water and sanitation, law enforcement, courts, tribal administration and infrastructure. Those investments in community benefit all of Minnesota, and not just a group of out-of-state investors.

"As far as regulation, tribal casinos are infinitely more regulated than Minnesota’s racetrack industry or the state lottery. Congress made tribes the primary regulators of their own gaming operations, but they are also regulated by Congress, the Department of the Interior, the National Indian Gaming Commission and the State of Minnesota under the compacts.

"The claim that slots at the track will create “thousands of new jobs” across the state is patently false. In fact, the opposite is true. Slots at Running Aces or Canterbury will merely shift jobs from rural Minnesota to the metro area.

"A racino at Running Aces Harness track, for example, could cut revenues at Mille Lacs Band facilities up to 40 percent, potentially leading to the loss of as many as 1200 jobs in rural Minnesota. A track at Canterbury Park would force Mystic Lake to lay off at least 30 percent of its workforce, possibly more. Even if every laid off employee were hired by the track, we’re still looking at no net job gain for Minnesota.

"In addition to cutting jobs, tribal casinos affected by racino competition also would be forced to reduce their spending on goods and services, costing Minnesota tribal vendors as much as $200 million a year.

"It’s unfortunate that racino proponents are not giving Minnesotans the full story. Racinos will not solve our budget problems, create new jobs or generate new economic activity. They’ll only shift jobs and divert income from rural Minnesota to the metro area. That’s not a jackpot. It’s a hijacking."

Friday, February 11, 2011


The member tribes of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA) are taking necessary steps to ensure that the cash cards given to public assistance recipients in Minnesota to purchase food and necessities cannot be used for cash withdrawals at tribal gaming properties.

MIGA Executive Director John McCarthy said that state officials have never approached the tribes with any concerns about potential misuse of the state-issued EBT cards at tribal casinos.

“The tribes were unaware of this issue until it surfaced in the media over the last couple of days,” McCarthy said. “Now that we’ve been given a heads-up, MIGA tribes are working with their ATM vendors to identify a solution. We appreciate being made aware of the problem. We would not want to facilitate anyone's misuse of public assistance.”

McCarthy said the solution likely involves making technical adjustments so that all casino cash machines are able to recognize and block the EBT cards.

Monday, January 10, 2011


The Sunday, January 9 edition of the CBS news program "Sixty Minutes" aired a segment linking the increased availability of slot machine gambling to increased gambling addiction, and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell didn't seem a bit happy about it.

Rendell reacted explosively when interviewer Leslie Stahl pressed him on whether his state was exploiting low-income and vulnerable people by promoting casino gambling.

"You just don't get it. You are a simpleton," growled Rendell, his teeth clenched. Rendell insisted that slot machine gamblers would merely find other ways to gamble if they didn't have ready access to slots.

However, compulsive gambling experts such as Drs. Robert Breen and Henry LeSeuer told Stahl that slot machines trigger a far more intense addictive effect than other forms of gambling.

Dr. Howard Shaffer, who heads up the Harvard Medical School Division on Addictions, emphasized that a small percentage of all gamblers are affected by addiction. The vast majority of players are able to enjoy gambling as entertainment without losing control over their behavior.

Two former gambling addicts told Stahl that they began to develop gambling problems when they gained greater access to slot machines.

Minnesotans are concerned about making gambling problems worse with expansion, according to MIGA Executive Director John McCarthy. "Our research shows that the biggest concern of those who oppose expansion is gambling addiction. They understand that more access to slot machines is likely to translate into more gambling addiction."

McCarthy said that a majority of Minnesotans believe we have enough gambling already. "With the limited gambling we have now, we've been able to strike just the right balance. If the state goes into the slot machine business and casinos start springing up all over Minnesota, that balance will be lost forever."

Saturday, January 1, 2011


On Saturday, January 1, the Duluth News Tribune featured a guest column by Bois Forte Chairman Kevin Leecy. Leecy, who also serves as Vice Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), challenged the idea that gambling expansion promises a solution to the state's budget deficit. Here's the full text of Chairman Leecy's column:

The Minnesota Legislature will convene Jan. 4, facing one of the largest budget shortfalls in the stateʼs history. Gov.-elect Mark Dayton and a handful of legislators have indicated they will propose expanded gambling as a solution to Minnesotaʼs budget woes.

Unfortunately, this so-called solution may do more harm than good. Expansion supporters have been promoting racinos at the stateʼs two racetracks for several years. Both Canterbury Park in Shakopee and Running Aces Harness Track in Anoka County would compete head-to-head with existing tribal casinos.

Despite perceptions to the contrary, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Communityʼs casinos, Mystic Lake and Little Six, are not immune to competition. A racino at Canterbury Park could cost Scott Countyʼs largest employer nearly 30 percent of its business, leading to employee layoffs, benefit reductions and cuts in philanthropic giving.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is even more vulnerable to a racino at Running Aces Harness Track. Mille Lacs officials have projected losses of 40 percent to 50 percent at their casinos in Onamia and Hinckley. Again, losses of this magnitude could mean the elimination of as many as 800 jobs. This would be a huge blow to Mille Lacs and Pine counties, where the tribe is again the largest employer.

At best, the racinos will only transfer jobs from rural Minnesota to the metro area for no net job gain. Since these job shifts will be permanent, the result will be a net loss for rural communities.

Many people have asked me how the racinos would affect our casino, Fortune Bay, located way up north on Lake Vermilion. They donʼt realize how much of our business comes from the Twin Cities. Currently, people who want to gamble in the Twin Cities must drive to Mystic Lake. If they had another option in the north metro, many would stop there and never make it all the way to Fortune Bay.

Racino supporters also fail to recognize that reduced business at our northern casinos translates into economic hardship for the hospitality industry in our region. Why would legislators or our new governor consider anything potentially harmful to northern Minnesotaʼs resorts, restaurants and lodging facilities that rely on tourism for survival?

Even more concerning, the authorization of privately owned racinos would open the door to unlimited gambling expansion. Once states get a taste of gambling revenues, theyʼll want more. There is not a single state in the U.S. that hasnʼt continued to expand gambling beyond its first venture. Racinos lead to slots in the bars; slots in the bars lead to state-owned casinos; casinos start with slots and then add table games, roulette and craps. It never ends. Thereʼs
never enough money for legislators to spend.

Despite this runaway expansion, virtually every state with gambling is facing huge budget shortfalls. In Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Nevada and Missouri, states that relied on gambling to balance the books, lawmakers and government leaders are finding they bet on the wrong form of economic stimulus.

I canʼt help but wonder why some Minnesota legislators have decided that the solution to the stateʼs budget problem must come at the expense of tribal members and employees. Minnesota has more than 4 million residents. Shouldnʼt all of us be asked to share the pain?

Expanding gambling will not generate meaningful new money for Minnesota. Instead, the racinos will merely take $100 million out of rural Minnesota and divert it to two privately owned businesses and the black hole of state government. In this case, the shell game puts the burden squarely on the backs of Minnesotaʼs 55,000 tribal members and 12,000 tribal employees. Thatʼs an average contribution of nearly $1,500 from each of those 67,000 people.

Perhaps the state should just ask for donations from civic-minded citizens. If each Minnesotan contributed $25, the Legislature would have its $100 million—and tribes wouldnʼt face the loss of their economic resources yet again.