White Earth casino 'not in play right now'

ST. PAUL -- White Earth Nation's proposal to build a Twin Cities casino that could help fund a new Vikings stadium received little support from key policymakers Thursday after the tribe's leader said it would be the best option for Minnesotans.

Vikings stadium pitch
Chairwoman Erma Vizenor of the White Earth Nation stands in front of a MinnesotaWins banner Thursday. MinnesotaWins is a White Earth plan to build a Twin Cities casino, with profits split between the tribe and state.

ST. PAUL -- White Earth Nation's proposal to build a Twin Cities casino that could help fund a new Vikings stadium received little support from key policymakers Thursday after the tribe's leader said it would be the best option for Minnesotans.

A casino operated by the tribe could be a fall-back plan, but probably not this year, the chief Minnesota House stadium proponent said.

"They are not in play right now," Rep. Morrie Lanning said.

Lanning, R-Moorhead, said he has had only a brief hallway conversation with White Earth Chairwoman Erma Vizenor, who on Thursday said the northwestern Minnesota American Indian tribe's offer "is the only solution that is fair to all Minnesotans."

Gov. Mark Dayton is not on board, despite Vizenor's claim to reporters that he supports the plan.


"To say he supports the plan is a bit of an overstatement," Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said. "The governor has said all along that he is open to any good idea, but he does not think a metro-area casino should be linked to funding for a stadium, due mainly to the fact that it will likely be tied up in litigation for years, and is not a reliable source of funding."

Lanning said the White Earth plan could be part of the funding discussion if talks between Minneapolis and the Vikings fall through in an effort to build a new stadium next door to the Metrodome. Or, Lanning said, Ramsey County officials could team up with White Earth to provide a funding source more acceptable than earlier plans.

The proposal would provide funds for the state to pay its part of a $1 billion Vikings stadium, and send the state money for at least 30 years for other purposes.

"All with no new taxes," Vizenor said.

Details of the casino plan remain to be worked out.

For one thing, White Earth is working off 2005 estimates of money a Twin Cities casino could provide to the tribe and state and a new estimate is not expected until early next month. Also, no senator has stepped forward to sponsor the legislation, which would be needed for it to pass. And the tribe has not met with the Vikings, something else necessary for a deal.

Most stadium attention in recent weeks has focused on Minneapolis, where the Vikings have played football since the 1980s. The Vikings and Minneapolis leaders started negotiating when funding problems cropped up with Ramsey County's bid to build the stadium in Arden Hills.

If Minneapolis and Ramsey County plans collapse, Lanning said, it probably would be next year before any other plan, like White Earth's, could be ready for a vote. The Vikings want a stadium bill to pass this year; their Metrodome lease expired Feb. 1.


The House author of the White Earth bill said things can happen quickly in the Legislature. Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said the proposal is likely to have more supporters than any other stadium funding source.

"This is not just for the Vikings," Eken said. "This is not just for the tribe."

In December, Vizenor said $300 million profit a year would be split between the tribe and the state. That estimate came from 2005.

Leaders of some other tribes said they did not like the White Earth proposal when Vizenor discussed it in December.

The White Earth proposals calls for gambling devices to be controlled by the state lottery and the tribe would give up its sovereignty claims in casino-related issues.

Those provisions, Vizenor said, would prevent a dispute like occurred between Duluth and the Fond du Lac band of the Lake Superior Chippewa that stopped revenue flowing to the city.

Vizenor said that the tribe has no preference where a casino is built in the Twin Cities area. She said the tribe is willing to set up a temporary casino to start money flowing quickly.

Lanning indicated that the focus of stadium talks is with discussions between Minneapolis leaders and the Vikings. But even if there is a deal, which many expect to happen within days, that does not mean legislators will rubber-stamp it.


"If they announce an agreement, that will show some good progress here," Lanning said. "But what is going to also have to happen is the city of Minneapolis is going to have to show us a majority of the City Council is in support of the plan and we are going to have to prepare a bill draft."

So far, support for Mayor R.T. Rybak's stadium push has been lukewarm among some council members.

Davis is the Minnesota State Capitol Bureau correspondent for Forum Communications, which owns the Herald.

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