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Casino plan likely to end up in court
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The proposed state-tribal casino would feature 4,000 slot machines. (Photo by Getty Images)
Gov. Pawlenty's plan for a new state-tribal casino could spark several legal challenges. Pawlenty and leaders of three northern Minnesota Indian tribes have agreed to build a 4,000-slot-machine casino in the metropolitan area. Other Minnesota tribes that aren't involved in the deal aren't ruling out suing the state.

St. Paul, Minn. — Under the plan announced last week, the participating tribes would own and manage the new casino, and the Minnesota Lottery would operate the slot machines. John McCarthy of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association questions whether the lottery has the authority to do that.

"What was the intent of the law when they passed the referendum for the lottery? In our opinion, it certainly wasn't to run casinos. Well, that's how the governor has interpreted this," MCarthy said.

In 1988, Minnesota voters amended the state constitution to authorize a state lottery. The lottery section does not mention the word "casino." But Pawlenty chief of staff Dan McElroy points out that the Constitution doesn't prohibit it, either.

"We allow the card room at Canterbury and some other things, because those are regarded as what are called class two games of skill, and probably don't require a constitutional provision," according to McElroy. "But we do have a constitutional provision that says lottery and lottery games, lottery tickets, can be authorized if done through the Minnesota state lottery."

McElroy says the definition of lottery includes games of chance like slot machines. He says at least four other states with similar constitutional provisions have had their state lottery-operated casinos upheld by the courts.

But attorney Henry Buffalo, who represents the Prairie Island Dakota and the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe, says those cases may not apply to Minnesota's situation, because gambling laws vary from state to state.

"It would be hard to sort of pick any other state and say, 'Well, here's an example,' for two things -- because the constitutions would be different, and because I'm sure the language of the particular law authorizing it would be different," Buffalo said.

Buffalo says he's not sure if the two tribes he represents would sue the state over the plan. He says they first want to see the terms of the state-tribal agreement, but the bill hasn't been introduced in the Legislature yet. McElroy says that will happen in the next 10 days.

John McCarthy of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association says he's heard a lot of talk about legal action.

"I assume there will be several tribes that will file lawsuits, but I don't think we'll be the only ones," McCarthy said. "I think that there will be many other groups that will file lawsuits. Constitutional groups, I think some of the religious groups, there will probably be several lawsuits filed."

Other legal questions surround the new games included in the governor's plan. The governor's office says the state-tribal partnership casino will include additional table games such as craps and roulette. Other casinos could then push for the same games. A batch of lawsuits could delay the opening of a new casino, if the plan makes it through the Legislature.

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