The Star Tribune erred when, in a recent editorial, it claimed that allowing state-sanctioned casinos would not cause Minnesota any regret in the future. Thousands of rural Minnesotans -- most of them non-Indian -- who depend on casinos in outstate Minnesota for employment will have much to regret if the state moves ahead with any of the casino proposals currently being debated.
That is why I cannot understand how Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, who represents the area where Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Grand Casino Hinckley are located -- can co-author the bill that would create a joint state-tribal casino located in the Twin Cities north metro area. The north metro casino would take jobs away from her constituents. It would damage the economy of the region she represents. In today's volatile economy, jobs are moving away from outstate Minnesota -- why does she want to hasten that process?
A north metro casino -- which the Star Tribune endorsed -- could result in a combined estimated loss of revenue of 44 percent for Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Grand Casino Hinckley, because a significant number of those casinos' guests come from the north metro. As a result, 1,500 or more jobs could be lost at the casinos and other businesses and organizations in the Mille Lacs and Hinckley regions.
Most of the people who work at Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Grand Casino Hinckley are residents of rural areas where jobs were once in short supply. Two-thirds of them live within 30 miles of the two casinos. That means a north metro casino would take jobs away from people in outstate Minnesota to give them to people in the Twin Cities.
Others in outstate Minnesota would suffer as well. Brainerd and St. Cloud are major population and employment centers in East Central Minnesota, where Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Grand Casino Hinckley are located. Both cities derive tremendous economic benefit as a direct result of the goods and services purchased by casino employees. The casinos themselves also spend millions of dollars on business transactions with local vendors. Take away this economic activity by opening a north metro casino, and East Central Minnesota would experience a major financial downturn.
And it's not just East Central Minnesota that would suffer. Indian casinos further north also depend on Twin Cities area guests who come for gaming, snowmobiling, fishing and more. And the people who work in those casinos also depend on their jobs. Altogether, more than 10,000 men and women in outstate Minnesota are employed by the Indian gaming industry -- again, most of them non-Indians. These people earn more than $278 million each year in wages and benefits, money that they then spend in their local economies.
Indian casinos are some of the largest employers in those rural areas. They have helped small communities create jobs and hold onto their citizens. If Rep. Erickson and other legislators push forward with a state-sanctioned casino in the Twin Cities, they will eliminate jobs from the rural communities that need them the most. That's poor policy, and a bad bet for our state's future.
(Benjamin is chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.)
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