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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Indian Casino Monopoly as Political Entitlement

Posted By Gary Larson On November 1, 2007 @ 5:42 am In Race & Ethnicity, Multiculturalism | 2 Comments

Savvy tribal leaders offer up $12.5 million to the University of Minnesota for a new football stadium and for scholarships. It's cash largely extracted from the pockets of poor casino habitués, the result of politically-gotten monopoly profits. Who says pay-to-play politics doesn't pay off?

"Shakopee tribe's gift is a jackpot for 'U'"

Item: ". . . the $12.5 million gift announced last week by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community [to the University of Minnesota] includes $10 million for the new stadium and $2.5 million for a scholarship endowment . . ."
– Minneapolis (MN) Star Tribune, Oct 23, 2007

Good deeds, such as this noble tribe's gift to the University of Minnesota, deserve praise and certainly, a well-intended public thank you. Remember, too, this single tribe's largesse ought to be called what it is — a generous manifestation of the gambling monopoly granted to indigenous tribes by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA), then cultivated by a state-tribal compact in 1989 engineered by then-Minnesota Attorney General Hubert "Skip" Humphrey III.

It is a story steeped in corruption, a red flag on why monopolies of any sort ought not to be tolerated under an equal-justice-under-the-law system. It is also an indictment of pay-to-play politics.

A committee appointed in '89 by "Skip" Humphrey — yes, son of one-time Senator and Vice President Humphrey — granted Minnesota tribes the biggest gift of all times — tax-free status on gambling profits for their casinos. Forever! It is an open-ended compact. No expiration date. (Only Connecticut has a similar compact, but it requires payment of hundreds of millions to that state. Minnesota's state-tribal compact grants tax-free profits endlessly, except for a trivial registration fee for state "inspections." It amounts to the largest public tax-giveaway in state history.)

That Humphrey committee in '89, and certain state legislators since, have made certain that in-kind competition, such as slots at a local racetrack, would not diminish the enormous profits of tax-free tribal casinos in Minnesota. And it does not get better than tax-free, forever, for a business enterprise. (Sovereignty for all?)

This largest single gift to my alma mater's athletic department ($12.5 million!) derives indisputably from untaxed tribal "gaming." A lot is plucked from the desperately poor, down-on-their-luck jackpot-dreamers, gamblers of baby's money for new shoes. Choices are being made, perhaps pathologically for some, afflicted with an urge to win on the cheap. Losers, not winners, are casino habitués.

The newspaper's editorial lavishing praise on its huge advertiser ("Shakopee tribes' gift . . .") says, without foreboding or a hint of shame, it is "unfortunate that some critics have used [the gift] to reignite debate over non-Indian gambling in Minnesota."

What? No debate? Why, one might as well put free speech on hold, or muffle it with money-gifts. Disagree? Get thee to a nunnery or something.

Don't look now, but this hard and firm casino monopoly in Minnesota was formed, and today is preserved, by politicians of a certain stripe. More later on which party that is.

An ex-state senate majority leader, honorary member of an northern Ojibwe band, the Mahnomen, declares bluntly he'd never disturb what he calls "Indian gaming rights." It's as though these are enshrined in the Constitution, or in some immutable law. So firm is the grip of this moneyed casino monopoly in my home state, that a politically-preserved monopoly is called a "gaming right." Wow! (Note: George Orwell lives.)

A local House of Representatives leader says that any debate on Indian gaming in Minnesota is a "nonstarter." Off the table. So what if sound debate might solve the state's financial woes? Add dollars to stressed education budgets? So what if a proposed "racino" for Canterbury Park, the state's thoroughbred racetrack, promises $218 million in new state taxes, new jobs by the hundreds.

Indian casino interests, protected by a legislative safety net, trump even discussion of that '89 sweetheart Deal of the Millennium, a politically-gotten compact — a gift that gives forever, from the oh-so generous State of Minnesota.

It is the triumph of a moneyed special interest over public interest. And guess which party gets roughly 97% of nouveau riche Indians' political contributions in Minnesota? Democrats — here called "DFLers" — short for the once-noble party of HHH, "Skip" Humphrey's dad.

Back in 1995, a would-be local rival Indian casino was intended to enrich three impoverished Ojibwe bands at a nearby Hudson, Wisconsin, dog track. Raw political power exerted itself by Clinton appointees at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to deny the poor tribes' casino application.

That pitiful episode triggered the last of the Independent Counsel investigations, one by I.C. Carol Elder Bruce, and led to Congressional hearings at which Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt was grilled about his "inconsistent statements" about that rival casino in far-off Wisconsin. It remains, today, a millstone around the neck of the one-time Supreme Court hopeful. It is and remains a quite hidden American travesty, not much covered in liberal MSM, an offshoot of "hide-the-ball" if news is not Democrat-friendly.

In the end, a shot at equal-opportunity riches for three poor Ojibwe bands in neighboring Wisconsin was killed. And a dog track was closed, its only chance of survival, dashed, with a loss of 200 jobs. They were victims of falling track attendance and wagering handle, and bare-knuckle play-favorite politics at BIA.

(Epilogue: Three Wisconsin tribes are still poor, with high unemployment, running their few ramshackle casinos and bingo halls off the beaten track in rural Wisconsin. Said one tribal chair about being ambushed at BIA in '95: "Something is terribly wrong in Washington, D.C., at the Bureau.")

Poor Indians, you see, lack the "resources" to contribute mightily to political campaigns. Or for university football stadiums. Or for scholarships. Tax-paying Canterbury Park, a Class I public gambling venue, gets no slot machines. These are reserved for DFL-preferred venues, those Indian casinos that pay off handsomely — to DFLers. Some are more equal than others? (Again, Orwell lives!)

In the words of a GOP Senate Minority leader in Minnesota, not much reported in local media, a casino monopoly has "bought and paid for" the once-noble, "progressive" Minnesota political party, the DFL. 'Tis a pity, really.

The last sentence in the Star Tribune editorial lavishing praise on the tribe's generosity is richly ironic, no doubt unintended: "The [Shakopee] tribe's leaders deserve more credit than they get." Indeed.

Locking out competition, preserving a forever-monopoly, is a Herculean feat. Politics, it is said, makes strange bedfellows. In my native Minnesota, the State DFL aligned with friends in fabulously wealthy Indian casinos, play by their own rules, and thus are richly rewarded. Yet local news media, parroting the DFL, would have no debate, none at all, on a political entitlement now enshrined as a "gaming right."

Someone ought to be mightily ashamed. Corruption never had it so good. Shhhh!

Rob's reply
Larson's first mistake is claiming Indian gaming is a monopoly. It isn't.

Apparently he's not too observant, since he's missed all the casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, the Gulf Coast, Reno, and elsewhere. Whoops.

In addition, any state without casinos is free to legalize casinos. These casinos don't have to be Indian casinos, although any federally recognized tribe can also open a casino in such a state.

For a perfect example, look at Pennsylvania. Since it legalized gambling, it's allowing several casinos and racinos. None of them are Indian-run because there's no federally recognized tribe in Pennsylvania.

So where's the monopoly—in Pennsylvania or anywhere else? Nowhere, that's where. It doesn't exist except in Larson's imagination.

Are paid-for politicians preventing non-Indian casinos from opening in Minnesota? In California, when state officials blocked Indian casinos, the tribes went to the voters and got permission to operate. Any state's citizens can do the same thing for Indian or non-Indian casinos.

In fact, several states' citizens have voted for or against gaming recently. Those who have voted for it have eliminated any Indian gaming "monopoly" in that state. So a monopoly exists only artificially and temporarily if a state's voters want it to exist. If they want to end a so-called monopoly, they can.

Larson's second mistake is claiming Minnesota's compacts are unusual. Actually, no state can tax an Indian casino's profits. But states can negotiate non-tax payments when negotiating gaming compacts. That may be too fine a point for Larson, but it's a distinction tribes insist upon.

Larson's third mistake is claiming corruption in Minnesota with no evidence. So Skip Humphrey appointed a committee in 1989 that negotiated a favorable deal for Minnesota's tribes. So what? Where's the evidence of payoffs to Humphrey or any member of the committee? Nowhere in this article, that's where.

So what if Minnesota's tribes contribute to the Democratic Party today? What does that have to do with compacts signed 18 years ago? Does Larson think the state can unilaterally void the compacts and insist on new ones? If so, he's sadly mistaken.

And what does any of this have to do with corruption in other states? If Minnesota's deal was corrupt—for which there's no evidence—does it follow that corruption is an unavoidable part of gaming or Indian gaming? Answer: No, it doesn't.

Larson's fourth mistake is claiming that Minnesota's politicians compelled the BIA to deny casinos to three Ojibwe bands for corrupt reasons. For starters, he provides no evidence that these politicians had any influence whatsoever on the "Clinton appointees" who made the decision. More important, he ignores the local opposition to the casino, which was a key factor in the BIA's rejection of the application.

Here's what one report had to say about the decision:

Under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, establishment of tribally operated casinos outside of Indian trust lands requires the approval of both the federal government and the affected state's governor.

The BIA rejected the Hudson casino application in 1995, citing both local political opposition and complaints from competing Wisconsin and Minnesota tribes that feared the new coompetitor would cut into their casino profits.


[Hope for approval] might explain the surprise 11th-hour announcement by Chippewa Meadows in December to add $35 million to the revenue-sharing payments it was promising to local governments if the casino is approved. That announcement and subsequent smaller agreements have committed the partnership to more than $90 million in payments over 10 years. The payments would result in significant property tax reductions for Hudson and St. Croix County taxpayers.

But the city of Hudson has refused to support the casino. It withdrew a resolution of outright opposition to settle a lawsuit by the bands, who contended that the city had an obligation not to oppose the facility. St. Croix County also has refused to pass a resolution of support. Gov. Tommy Thompson has said support from both governments would be necessary to win his approval.

So the Hudson casino wouldn't have been on any of the three tribes' reservations. For Larson's information, most politicians and most citizens oppose off-reservation casinos. This has nothing to do with payoffs or corruption and everything to do with a philosophical opposition to widespread gambling.

In addition, the city of Hudson opposed the casino in its midst and Gov. Thompson based his opposition on that. So where's the corruption, exactly? Did the tribes who opposed the casino pay the city and the governor to oppose it also? Or was the casino doomed no matter what the tribes did?

In short, this screed is another example of the stereotypical claim that Indians are greedy and corrupt. Since Larson makes this allegation only about Indians who operate casinos, not non-Indians, it's also racist. Sorry, but that's the word for it when you discriminate among a group (casino operators) by race.

Related links
Greedy Indians
The facts about Indian gaming

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