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White Earth casino plan is 'not in play right now'

Erma Vizenor of the White Earth Nation is pictured Thursday at the state Capitol during an address on a new Minnesota Vikings stadium. Tribune photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- White Earth Nation's proposal to build a Twin Cities casino that could help fund a new Vikings stadium received little support from key policymakers Thursday after the tribe's leader said it would be the best option for Minnesotans.

A casino operated by the tribe could be a fall-back plan, but probably not this year, the chief Minnesota House stadium proponent said.

"They are not in play right now," Rep. Morrie Lanning said.

Lanning, R-Moorhead, said he has had only a brief hallway conversation with White Earth Chairwoman Erma Vizenor, who on Thursday said the northwestern Minnesota American Indian tribe's offer "is the only solution that is fair to all Minnesotans."

Gov. Mark Dayton is not on board, despite Vizenor's claim to reporters that he supports the plan.

"To say he supports the plan is a bit of an overstatement," Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said.

Lanning said the White Earth plan could be part of the funding discussion if talks between Minneapolis and the Vikings fall through in an effort to build a new stadium next door to the Metrodome. Or, Lanning said, Ramsey County officials could team up with White Earth to provide a funding source more acceptable than earlier plans.

The proposal would provide funds for the state to pay its part of a $1 billion Vikings stadium, and send the state money for at least 30 years for other purposes.

"All with no new taxes," Vizenor said.

Details of the casino plan remain to be worked out.

For one thing, White Earth is working off 2005 estimates of money a Twin Cities casino could provide to the tribe and state and a new estimate is not expected until early next month. Also, no senator has stepped forward to sponsor the legislation, which would be needed for it to pass. And the tribe has not met with the Vikings, something else necessary for a deal.

Most stadium attention in recent weeks has focused on Minneapolis, where the Vikings have played football since the 1980s. The Vikings and Minneapolis leaders started negotiating when funding problems cropped up with Ramsey County's bid to build the stadium in Arden Hills.

If Minneapolis and Ramsey County plans collapse, Lanning said, it probably would be next year before any other plan, like White Earth's, could be ready for a vote. The Vikings want a stadium bill to pass this year; their Metrodome lease expired Feb. 1.

The House author of the White Earth bill said things can happen quickly in the Legislature. Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said the proposal is likely to have more supporters than any other stadium funding source.

"This is not just for the Vikings," Eken said. "This is not just for the tribe."

Leaders of some other tribes said they did not like the White Earth proposal when Vizenor discussed it in December. The White Earth proposals calls for gambling devices to be controlled by the state lottery and the tribe would give up its sovereignty claims in casino-related issues.

Those provisions, Vizenor said, would prevent a dispute like occurred between Duluth and the Fond du Lac band of the Lake Superior Chippewa that stopped revenue flowing to the city.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.