Casinos have pumped billions of dollars into Minnesota tribal economies over the past 25 years — and while the state doesn’t get a cut of the profits, the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association says the whole state has cashed in.
Tribal casinos employ thousands of Minnesotans and draw millions of visitors each year, according to a report released this week that offers a glimpse into tribal gaming’s closely guarded finances.
From payroll to purchasing to tourist dollars, tribal casinos pump an estimated $1.8 billion in direct and indirect revenue back to the state each year, according to the report. It estimates that casinos and related industries, such as tribal-run hotels, employed 13,371 people, attracted 23 million visitors and channeled $482 million to other Minnesota vendors.
The report says that casinos are the 14th-largest employer in the state — ahead of the U.S. Postal Service and just behind 3M and UnitedHealth Group — and that they have become one of the largest tourism destinations, second only to the Mall of America.
Those numbers are difficult to verify independently, since the tribes do not share data on casino attendance, revenue and other measures. But communities like Prior Lake say there are definite benefits to having a tribal casino next door.
“There’s an awful lot of cooperation and mutual benefit,” said Prior Lake City Manager Frank Boyles.
The nearby Mystic Lake Casino Hotel employs an estimated 600 of his neighbors, draws a steady flow of tourists to this town of 22,000, located 20 miles southwest of Minneapolis, and generates wealth that the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community often shares.
This year, the Mdewakanton Community donated $430,000 to Prior Lake to offset the cost of policing around the casino, Boyles said. The tribe also pumps money into a variety of local causes, ranging from installing defibrillators around town to picking up the half-million dollar tab to light athletic fields at a local park.
The Prior Lake and Mdewakanton governments also have joined forces on a water treatment plant, he said, and the tribe is paying for $17 million in repairs on the county road that leads to the casino. “They are a very giving people,” Boyles said.
The fact that Minnesota does not collect a share of the revenue from the tribal casinos within its borders has generated tension over the years, as the casino business boomed, allowing tribes to build schools, health clinics and businesses on once-impoverished reservations.
The new report is, in part, an effort to show that casino revenue isn’t a one-way street, said John McCarthy, the gaming association’s executive director. “The primary purpose was to show, scientifically, that tribal gaming is important to the whole state,” he said.
To read the report, visit tinyurl.com/gaming-impact.