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Casino: Pride and profits

RED LAKE, Minn. -- The new Seven Clans Casino here is about money -- and a lot more. On the revenue side, projections have the new facility earning twice as much profit as the former one, a makeshift industrial steel building that was converted f...

Curved ceiling
The architecture of the new casino in Red Lake repeats the use of a curved roundhouse ceiling in various spaces throughout the new facility. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

RED LAKE, Minn. -- The new Seven Clans Casino here is about money -- and a lot more.

On the revenue side, projections have the new facility earning twice as much profit as the former one, a makeshift industrial steel building that was converted from a community center. And on the payroll side, it offers 225 jobs, 100 more than before.

"We're now a major player in the casino business in northwestern Minnesota," said Ray Brenny, the chief operating officer. "We have two major facilities and soon will have a third."

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa also operates casinos in Warroad, Minn., and Thief River Falls, all three carrying the Seven Clans brand. The Warroad casino, a former fish processing building, is slated for an upgrade. The Thief River Falls casino, which opened in 2001, is family oriented, with a water park as its centerpiece.

The $21 million new casino has an expanded gaming area from the old one, but with 300 slot machines and six tables, it is about one-third the size of Mahnomen's mammoth Shooting Star. Its expected niche, with an upscale restaurant and catering service, 40 motel rooms that are all suites and large, flexible spaces, is to become an event center that can handle 800 people in its showroom and 400 for banquets.

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Its look is more historic than Las Vegas glitz. A committee decided much of the appearance, which follows cultural lines. The complex is built to replicate a traditional Ojibwe "roundhouse." A roundhouse was used for powwows and other gatherings.

The carpeting also has meaning, as its designs and color schemes include replicas of reservation flowers and the water of the Upper and Lower Red Lakes. The swimming pool has the shape of the two lakes that dominate Red Lake Nation. The meeting rooms are named after the seven clans.

At the entrance is a metal sculpture of an eagle, the name of one of the seven clans, which is 18 feet high with a 30-foot wingspan.

Integrating symbols and culture is understandable since Red Lake is the most traditional of Minnesota's tribes. It is a sovereign nation and all of the 1,300 square miles are owned by the tribe, not individuals.

"In addition to jobs and more cash for programs on the reservation, pride is another important thing to come out of this," Brenny said. "There's pride in the facility because people put a lot of time into making this happen."

On southern border

Another difference is that the casino is located on the southern border of the reservation, right on Minnesota Highway 89.

The former casino was in the town of Red Lake and not on the highway, a well-traveled link between Winnipeg and Bemidji.

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"It's all about demographics, being closer to the population base of Bemidji and being on a busy highway," Brenny said.

Although unspoken, there likely is another reason. The town probably is foreboding to some visitors since 10 people were killed in the school shootings in 2005. The casino is located six miles south of Red Lake.

The casino, like those in Warroad and Thief River Falls, is alcohol-free. Even with that limitation, the poor economy and only one modern casino, 2009 was a record year for the tribe's three sites, Brenny said.

If early returns at the new casino are any indication, 2010 should smash that record. Since the casino opened Dec. 23, "our weekday traffic is double and our weekend traffic is triple," Brenny said. "People want to stay here on the weekends."

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com .

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