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Tribal backing for casino partnership erodes

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) Two of three American Indian tribes working with Gov. Tim Pawlenty on a proposed Twin Cities casino formally withdrew their backing Monday, with one saying last week's move to link it to a second casino "will do more harm" than good.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe said they could no longer press ahead after the state-tribal plan was merged with another proposal for a state-backed casino at Canterbury Park racetrack. The plan would lead to two casinos in Shakopee.

Leech Lake tribal leaders said they can't go along with a plan that benefits private industry. They said in a written statement that casino gambling in Minnesota was intended to provide an economic lift on Indian reservations.

"It is based on this intrinsic principle that Leech Lake withdraws from the merger," the tribal statement said. "A privately owned casino supported by the state of Minnesota will do more harm to Indian gaming than a state-tribal casino will do good."

Separately, the Red Lake tribal council voted 9-0 on Monday against partnering with the state and Canterbury Park owners.

In March, the two tribes joined the White Earth Band of Ojibwe in forging a casino partnership with Pawlenty's administration. That plan, which called for a $200 million upfront licensing payment by the tribes and shared profits down the road, found scant support in the Legislature.

In recent weeks, Pawlenty initiated talks to merge his plan with the Canterbury proposal, in hopes of building stronger momentum for his plans to fill state budget shortfalls with gambling proceeds.

White Earth Chairwoman Erma Vizenor didn't immediately return a phone call Monday about her tribe's intentions.

Canterbury's owners said last week they would donate a 20- to 25-acre plot of land for the tribal casino. Next door, Canterbury would add video slot machines and blackjack tables to an existing horse track and card club. Both entities would pay a $150 million licensing fee to the state.

Brian McClung, Pawlenty's spokesman, said they understand the decisions of the tribes.

"We would prefer to have Red Lake and Leech Lake working with us but we have two strong interested and good partners in the White Earth nation and Canterbury Park," he said.