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Gambling bills appear dead for session
The push to generate new state gambling revenues appears over for the year after a Senate committee Thursday night rejected or passed over the major casino initiatives. The Senate Taxes committee, however, did approve a plan calling for the governor to discuss an off-reservation casino with any of the state's 11 Indian communities that express an interest. But with only days left in the legislative session, that proposal seems certain to stall. And some tribal representatives are already suggesting it may be unworkable and unwelcome.

St. Paul, Minn. — Faced with ongoing budget deficits that are projected into the foreseeable future, a group of mostly Republican lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty have suggested state government should consider testing the gambling market as a potential revenue source. But all the major vehicles to do so ran aground, one after the other, in the Senate Taxes Committee.

However, committee chair Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, offered a plan that calls on the governor to negotiate a new gaming compact with any Indian governments interested in running a new multi-tribe casino in the metropolitan area. Pogemiller says that keeps gambling in the hands of Native Americans -- but recognizes the gambling industry's potential for growth.

"Let's do this within the current contours. And I think the current contour is not state-run and -operated gambling, but a modest expansion of Indian gaming," says Pogemiller. "And it's only an expansion in the sense that I think it will fill the market. The market's growing, and I think this just creates another location."

The measure was approved on a 7-5 vote. It calls for the state to get 20 percent to 50 percent of the revenues that a new casino might generate. But with the legislative clock nearly exhausted, the plan appears unlikely to receive further consideration this year. And a further hitch requires nine of the state's 11 tribes to sign on before it could be approved.

That prospect appears unlikely. Only two tribes have shown any willingness to support a multi-tribe metro casino. The rest have argued that doing so would simply draw business away from their existing operations.

Gordon Adams, Jr. is vice-chair of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa. Adams says Bois Forte and most of the state's tribal governments oppose any expansion of gaming -- even if the growth is controlled by Indian interests. And he says it will be difficult to align the interests of enough tribes to meet the Senate plan's conditions.

"We can see a whole litany of questions and a whole broad array of questions on management, disbursement to tribes. You know, there's going to be arguments on this thing right now. And each tribe, again, is a sovereign nation," says Adams.

Red Lake and White Earth are the two tribes that have been seeking a partnership with the state to open a casino in the Twin Cities. White Earth member David Glass says he's excited by Pogemiller's concept, despite the misgivings of other Native American communities. Glass says he hopes the other tribes can eventually be persuaded to sign on.

"We invited all 11 -- all the tribes -- to participate with us. And we had a formula that we worked out where we had some sharing. So we still think it's the right way to go. We think those are Indian values in terms of sharing," Glass says.

The Pogemiller plan was approved shortly after a series of more widely-discussed initiatives failed. A measure to allow slot machines in bars was soundly defeated on voice vote. And a proposal to license a single private casino was withdrawn from consideration. That plan had the heavy backing of Caesar's Entertainment of Las Vegas, which hoped to bid for the license and open a casino near the Mall of America.

Finally, a plan to install slot machines at the Canterbury Park racetrack was defeated on a 5-7 vote against. House Republicans had already approved that so-called "racino" plan and had built the project's expected revenues into their budget-balancing plan. Those dollars, however, appear to have been removed from legislative discussions in a Republican-backed proposal to jumpstart stalled budget negotiations. But GOP leaders say the racino idea will be resurrected in future years. So, in all likelihood, will its gambling cousins.

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