Here's the deal the White Earth tribe is offering the state of Minnesota.
They're willing to build a casino, anywhere around the Twin Cities you like, and split the profits 50/50 with the state. The state gets the money it needs to build a new Vikings stadium, and then some. The tribe -- the state's largest -- gets the kind of revenue it could never hope to generate at its current casino in remote Mahnomen.
Their plan has bipartisan sponsors in the state House and, they say, it has the governor's blessing. Whether it can generate enough momentum to break through an already crowded field of Vikings stadium proposals remains to be seen.
“Minnesotans have told us that they are not satisfied with any of the stadium-funding schemes that have been offered so far,” White Earth tribal chairwoman Erma J. Vizenor said at a Thursday press conference. “We have created a solution that not only would pay for the public share of the stadium, but would generate money for critical state priorities for years to come.”
Vizenor said she has the governor's support, and she has met with Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak about the proposal, but is open to any location for the casino.
State Reps. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, and Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, introduced legislation this week that would allow the casino deal to move forward. Eken joined Vizenor at the press conference, along with stadium booster – and former racino supporter – Cory Merifield, founder of Save the Vikes.
“The pressure to get something done is increasing, the desire to get something done is increasing, (and) this is the most politically salable proposal out there,” Eken said.
The pressure might be increasing, but time is running out for the legislature to act on any of the many gaming bills proposed around this session. But Eken says he’s lining up bipartisan Senate sponsors and expects his bill to move.
“It’s pretty amazing how fast things can be put together,” he said. “The other (bills) floating around out ther are caught in a logjam. This has the potential for breaking that logjam."
The 20,000-plus members of the White Earth tribe make up about 40 percent of Minnesota's Native population, and many of them in the Twin Cities area, Vizenor said. The tribe operates a casino in north-central Minnesota, but the remote location generates comparatively little income for the struggling tribe, or the community around it.
>“We are one of the poorest cities in the state,” said Jerry Carrier, city administrator for Mahnomen, where the tribe’s Shooting Star casino is located. “There’s been a good partnership between the city and the tribe. I can promise you, their word is their bond.”
The last time a community and a tribe partnered up to build a casino – the city of Duluth and the Fond du Lac band of the Lake Superior Chippewa – the deal fell apart when the band stopped paying the city a cut of the casino revenue.
This deal would be nothing like the Fond-du-Luth casino deal, Vizenor said. Because the casino would not be built on tribal land, there would be no issue of tribal sovereignty at stake.
“This is a business partnership, this isn’t a trust land issue,” she said. “We are willing to share with the state of Minnesota for the benefits of all Minnesotans and for the benefit of our people…and we’re willing to do our part to save our great team, the Vikings.”
The White Earth band plan to release a more detailed financial analysis of their proposal in early March. For more information, visit MinnesotaWins.com.