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MPR Poll: Majority want tribes to share gambling revenues
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The Red Lake casino in northern Minnesota. A new MPR-Pioneer Press poll shows a majority of state residents think Minnesota's Indian tribes should share their gambling revenue with the state. Under current treaties, the tribes are not required to do so. (MPR file photo)
A new Minnesota poll shows a majority of Minnesotans favor a gaming proposal from Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The governor wants Indian tribes to share some of their gambling revenue with the state. The poll, conducted last week for Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, also shows most Minnesotans are opposed to an expansion of gambling in the state.

Bemidji, Minn. — The poll, conducted by the Mason-Dixon research firm, surveyed 625 registered Minnesota voters -- people who said they were likely to vote in the election today. They were asked to comment on Gov. Pawlenty's new gaming proposal.

The governor wants Minnesota Indian tribes to share 25 percent of their gaming revenue with the state. The poll showed 53 percent of respondents agree with that.

Forty-two percent were opposed to the plan. Five percent were undecided. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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Image Erma Vizenor

Richard Green of Eden Prairie participated in the survey. He says right now the state needs all the financial help it can get.

"That would be a real healthy thing to do," said Green. "People are gambling, you know, so I think someone's getting fat on it, so I don't see why they shouldn't contribute to the state a little bit."

Some of the survey participants who oppose the governor's plan say it's unfair. Dave Paulson of Minneapolis says he has nothing against casino gambling.

"I totally support it as long as it's run by Indians," Paulson said. "That seems like good reparations for what white people have put upon them."

The poll asked people whether gambling in Minnesota should change. One option was whether Indian tribes should have a continued casino monopoly if they contribute 25 percent of their revenue to the state. Forty-two percent of respondents chose that.

Thirty-two percent said the state should allow non-Indians to run casinos. Only 18 percent said the state should leave the gaming situation as is.

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Image Gov. Pawlenty

Survey participant Judy Taylor of rural Mora says if tribes want a monopoly on casino gambling in Minnesota, they should be required to pay for it.

"I'm really opposed to gambling anyway, but it's here," Taylor said. "And it's going to stay and I can't change that. But if I could change, it I would have other people able to have the gambling themselves, or the Indians pay more taxes."

The poll showed 58 percent of Minnesotans were opposed to expansion of casino gambling. Thirty percent support more casinos, and 12 percent were undecided.

Some tribal leaders in northern Minnesota say Indians are not getting rich off casinos. Erma Vizenor, tribal chair of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, says the poll numbers show there's a lack of understanding among some Minnesotans.

Vizenor says metro tribes have done well, but northern tribes have struggled. Vizenor says she's told Gov. Pawlenty they have very little to share.

"We explained to him that our tribes, the largest tribes in Minnesota, we were in no position to give the state anything from our gaming operations, because basically our gaming operations are primarily jobs programs," said Vizenor.

Vizenor was one of only two tribal leaders to accept an invitation last week to meet with the governor. She favors a plan that would create a northern Twin Cities casino, with profits split between the White Earth, Red Lake and Leech Lake bands, and the state of Minnesota.

The Pawlenty administration welcomes the latest gambling poll numbers. A spokesman says they show Minnesotans agree with the governor. At a recent stop in Bemidji, Pawlenty said he wants a deal that will benefit both the state and the tribes.

"We're not talking about undoing the current agreements," said Pawlenty. "We want to create additional, or new agreements, that would allow the tribal communities in the state to be partners. I would have as a first preference not expanding gaming. But the industry has gotten so large, the state needs to get a better deal."

The gambling question was the subject of political snarling in the days before the election. Last week the Republican Party began running radio ads blaming Democrats for allowing Indian tribes to get away without sharing with the state. Some Democrats and a few tribal leaders have called the ads "shameful."

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