The Prairie Island Native American community has been generating attention this legislative session for the cards it holds in the nuclear waste debate at the nearby Xcel Energy nuclear power plant.
But Prairie Island, and the other tribes that profit handsomely from casinos, are equally embroiled in the debate over whether to expand gambling in Minnesota.
The push to expand gambling beyond the borders of reservations is not new, but the flush economy kept the idea from moving forward in previous years. That all has changed with the current state deficit; lawmakers are looking at any and every avenue for raising money. Cash-strapped states across the country are looking to tap into casino jackpots as a way to soften budget shortfalls.
Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, which allowed tribes to negotiate compacts with states to conduct gambling. The act bars states from taxing tribes directly. However, a series of decisions by the U.S. Department of Interior, which reviews the agreements, has led to a policy of allowing revenue-sharing in exchange for an exclusive agreement such as the right to conduct gambling in a specific jurisdiction.
Today, reservation gambling is big business with an estimated $12.7 billion in revenue generated in 2001. And though many tribal officials say they can see benefits from revenue-sharing agreements, many others view the trend with a wary eye.
Gaming compacts are regularly negotiated in most states, but Minnesota's tribal agreements were signed for perpetuity under the Gov. Rudy Perpich administration. That doesn't sit well with many people who reasonably argue that the circumstances today are much different than when the compacts were signed. And though the tribes are excluded from opening new gambling sites, nothing prevents them from expanding existing operations.
The discussion has prompted some to suggest that tribes agree to renegotiate their agreements in exchange for assurances that Minnesota not authorize non-Indian casinos outside of reservations. The tribes ought to look at the proposal. They will be in a stronger position if they are a player in framing new compacts rather than just lobbying against all new casino proposals.
-- Red Wing Republican Eagle
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