In response to various proposals to expand gambling in Minnesota, officials and employees of the state’s gaming tribes protested at the state Capitol on April 26. State police estimated that more than 1,500 people attended the rally organized by the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA), in which the crowd chanted, “Don’t gamble with my job,” reported the Star Tribune.
The MIGA, tribal employees and members, and supporters gathered “to highlight their concerns about potential tribal job losses if the state legislature authorizes slot machines at licensed racetracks in Minnesota,” according to the Latest MIGA News.
A new bill introduced by Senate President Michelle Fischbach (R) would allow video gambling terminals in bars and restaurants, reported the Star Tribune. Meanwhile, House Speaker Kurt Zellers (R) has a bill to allow electronic bingo and electronic pull tabs in bars. Another bill would allow state racetracks to feature slot machines.
“More than 40,000 people in Minnesota depend on tribal gaming, directly or indirectly, for their jobs,” Chairman Kevin Leecy of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa said, reported the Latest MIGA News. “Some of us could be forced to lay off as much as one-third of our work force if we end up with state-sponsored racinos right in our own backyards.”
Curt Kalk, the secretary/treasurer of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians, estimated his tribe’s revenues would drop by 40 percent if a nearby racetrack offers slot machines.
“What we would see would be simply a massive transfer of jobs and economic activity away from communities around casinos,” Kalk said at the rally, the Associated Press reported.
Minnesota bar and restaurant owners have been seeking this expansion for years despite opposition from gaming tribes. Supporters tout that the revenue would benefit charities and the state through tax proceeds, in addition to going toward a jobs creation fund and boosting the economies of some cash-strapped small-town establishments. Profit Minnesota, a coalition of more than 4,900 bars and restaurants, claim the gaming would generate as much as $230 million in charitable donations and an estimated $630 million in new state revenue annually, reported the Associated Press.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton hinted at reluctance to expand gambling, although he welcomed the idea of a racino to help fund early childhood education and job creation. “I’d like to put that on the table,” Bakk said in a conference call with journalists the morning of April 26 before the rally, reported MinnPost.com. Dayton and the majority Republicans are seeking ways to reduce a projected $5 billion budget deficit as a May 23 adjournment deadline approaches, reported the Star Tribune.
Minnesota DFL House leader Paul Thissen mentioned that using racino funds for job creation might negatively affect Indian casinos, reducing jobs at those venues, stated MinnPost.com. “Native Ameican casinos around the state are actually among the strongest pieces of job creation—and really good jobs that pay for health care—in many parts of the state that have the least economic development,” Thissen said. “When we’re talking about jobs, that’s really what we need to take into consideration. Are we just moving jobs from one place to another, and where might those jobs be?”
Ernie Stevens, Jr., Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), addressed the rally. “Looking out at this great crowd, I see Indian and non-Indian people standing side by side, fighting for their jobs in tribal gaming,” Stevens said, according to a MIGA press release. “We thank you for being here, and for supporting the great work that these tribes are doing for their own communities and for their neighbors. We’re all in this together.”