Tribes gear up for legislative fight

Member tribes of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA) are gearing up for a tough 2010 legislative session, as lawmakers indicate they may expand gambling to include racinos at the state’s two racetracks, slot machines in neighborhood restaurants and bars, and other new gambling options.

MIGA Executive Director John McCarthy said that rural communities stand to be hurt the most if the state authorizes slot machines in bars. “Most of the rural tribes have pretty small casinos, and they rely on their local market for most of their business,” McCarthy said. “Those tribes could lose anywhere from ten to fifty percent of their business if the state puts slot machines in all the bars in their area.”

Tribal casinos are the primary source of revenue to fund government programs and services, McCarthy said, so a large drop in casino business directly affects tribes’ ability to provide education, health care, housing and other assistance to their members.

McCarthy noted that tribal casinos also serve as major economic engines in the counties where they are located. Of the 41,700 direct and indirect jobs supported by Indian tribes, more than 30,000 are located in rural Minnesota. Wages, health care benefits, and the purchase of goods and services were worth more than $950 million to rural counties in 2007, the most recent year for which data have been analyzed.

“Most of the MIGA tribes are already reporting drops of ten to fifteen percent in their revenues, just due to the recession,” McCarthy said. “If they have to take another twenty to thirty percent hit because of state-sponsored competition, we’re going to see some significant workforce reductions. The ripple effect on rural counties is going to be very severe.”

Tribes are letting their employees know that if they want to protect their jobs, they may have to get involved and let their legislators know how they feel, McCarthy said.

“In an economy like this one, you can’t afford to mess with an industry that supports 41,000-plus jobs statewide,” he concluded.

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Andy Platto