Tribal leader: A better way to fund a stadium
Myths and money once again are distorting the conversation on gambling that Minnesotans should be having. Instead of examining the best solution, policymakers and editorial writers are turning their backs on the only solution that is fiscally sound and morally responsible.
The White Earth Nation is proposing a business relationship with the state to build a metro-area casino. The tribe would be responsible for all development costs but would split revenue with the state. From every perspective, the plan -- MinnesotaWins -- makes sense.
We have done what no other gaming proposal this year has done: We have had our plan analyzed by objective third-party experts, the investment banks that would arrange the debt financing. They estimate that the state's share of the revenue in the first five years of operation would be between $726 million and nearly $1 billion -- all of it with no new taxes. (Details are available at our website, http://www.MinnesotaWins.com.)
Meanwhile, the economic forecasts for electronic pulltabs keep changing. About the only certainty is that electronic pulltabs would not generate enough revenue for the state to cover its share of a Vikings stadium, much less leave money for any of the other important needs facing Minnesota. A shortfall would leave the state no option other than to impose new taxes or take money from other priorities to pay off the public debt on a stadium.
In contrast, the state's share of revenue from MinnesotaWins could start paying back money borrowed from local school districts. It could be used for job-creation projects or any other critical state need. And, it could be used to fund the public's share of a Vikings stadium.
The White Earth plan also is the only gaming proposal that isn't based on a significant expansion of gaming. We asked the nationally recognized firm Gaming Market Advisors to conduct a market feasibility study as part of our proposal. GMA concluded that with the number of casinos already operating in the area, the market won't grow significantly. Instead, it said, "Most of the projected growth in the market over the next five years will result from the projected growth in income and population."
Competition from a new metro casino, of course, has the wealthy tribes lashing out at White Earth, claiming that a casino that is operated by the tribe and shares revenue with the state would somehow violate the intent of Indian gaming. The intent of tribal gaming wasn't to make a few tribes wealthy; it was to create economic opportunities for all Native Americans.
In every way, MinnesotaWins is consistent with the purpose and spirit of tribal gaming. There is ample precedent for casino partnerships between tribes and public governments. Our neighbors in Wisconsin and Michigan are among the many states that receive revenue from tribal gaming and, in some cases, are partners in off-reservation casinos similar to what White Earth is proposing.
Even more to the purpose of tribal gaming, White Earth would use its share of the revenue to build decent housing, provide health care, improve access to education and create jobs. Much of this, of course, would directly benefit tribal members. But because all the money would stay in Minnesota, the investments and construction also would help many business throughout northwestern Minnesota, where our reservation is located. And, construction of the casino would create up to 2,500 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs.
Yes, the existing Twin Cities casinos would take a bit of a hit if MinnesotaWins is successful. According to GMA, casino revenue in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas in 2011 was about $1.3 billion. GMA estimates it will reach $1.6 billion in 2016. The White Earth-state casino would gain some; the existing casinos would lose some.
But put those numbers in perspective. What it really means is that casinos like Mystic Lake would drop from being enormously lucrative for a small number of tribal members to being very lucrative. Meanwhile, the White Earth Nation -- the state's largest and poorest tribe -- would gain the economic opportunities that were intended for all tribes when the courts and Congress regulated Indian gaming in the 1980s.
We aren't asking that MinnesotaWins escape scrutiny. There are tough questions to ask, and we are providing honest answers. Certainly, we know that if the Legislature approves MinnesotaWins, the wealthy casinos will sue to protect their turf. There are compelling legal opinions that a White Earth-state casino would pass court review.
The more relevant point, though, is that every gaming proposal would face a legal challenge. Antigambling interests will challenge the constitutionality of electronic pulltabs. We believe that both pulltabs and MinnesotaWins are consistent with the state Constitution. There is little reason to think that one will take longer to make that point than the other.
We believe that when myths and special-interest money give way to facts, MinnesotaWins is the only solution.
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Erma Vizenor is the White Earth tribal chair.