Racino poses risk of regional job loss, Leecy says

The Chairman of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa has expressed concern that the push for slot machines at racetracks in Minnesota could lead to a racino in his tribal casino’s backyard.

Chairman Kevin Leecy said a proposed racino in Hibbing could cost hundreds of jobs at Fortune Bay Casino in Tower. His comments appeared in the March 8 edition of the Duluth News Tribune. The Hibbing racino is one of as many as four that would be authorized if the Minnesota Legislature passes a bill allowing slot machines at state racetracks.

Here’s what Chairman Leecy had to say:

Racino would steal existing jobs

The recession that has pounded our country and our communities might finally be abating, but a new threat to regional jobs is brewing. And this threat is originating right here at home.

A group of private developers wants to put a combined racetrack and casino — a “racino” — in Hibbing on land owned by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. The IRRRB recently granted the group a four-year option to purchase more than 600 acres (“Casino, racetrack sought for Range,” Feb. 24).

Backers of the project touted the jobs they said the racino would create. What they failed to point out was that these hypothetical jobs would come at the expense of hundreds of existing ones.

That’s because the racino wouldn’t create new gamers. Instead, it would draw them away from places like Fortune Bay Resort Casino, which employs 500 people in our region. The majority of these men and women are non-Indians.

Chances are good you know someone who works for Fortune Bay; the resort casino is the largest nonmining employer in Northeastern Minnesota. You probably also have met someone who works for one of the many companies that supply Fortune Bay with products and services.

In its 24 years of operation, Fortune Bay has done more than provide good-paying jobs with excellent benefits. Fortune Bay partners with local business groups to encourage tourism to the entire region. The Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, which owns and operates Fortune Bay, invests gaming revenues in tribal government programs, services, and construction and infrastructure projects that serve and employ Indians and non-Indians. The band and Fortune Bay contribute to a wide range of charitable organizations and causes. And despite the ongoing recession, Fortune Bay has not laid off a single employee.

Would a racino have a similar commitment to this community? Though its current backers may be local, that could change. Big Las Vegas operations like Harrah’s and MGM can — and do — buy out local ventures. Investors take the cash, and a racino is left in the hands of absentee owners.

Fortune Bay and other locally owned businesses have invested in the success of this region. It is our home as well as yours, and the money we earn goes back into our communities. We want to work with our neighbors to generate more jobs and strengthen our economy, rather than fight to protect jobs we already created.

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Andy Platto