Gambling ideas must help different groups

While facilitating gambling is always a dicey prospect, the current ideas strike a balance.

A new metro-area, state-run casino has raised much debate recently, with proponents supporting the revenue it would create for the state and opponents criticizing the prospect of more gambling and infringement of American Indian rights. But a new joint venture proposal from Gov. Tim Pawlenty, carrying the support of three American Indian tribes, might provide the compromise the public is looking for.

Now moving through the House in the State Legislature, the plan includes a metro-area casino run jointly by the state and the Leech Lake, White Earth and Red Lake Chippewa bands as well as the long-debated “racino” at Canterbury Park.

Leaders of the tribes wishing to join the project say their bands are poor even with revenue from casinos in their region. Skeptics wonder if the tribes will be able to make the financial commitment involved in building and running the casino, but assuming they can, the idea is a good one.

One of the plan’s key advantages lies in the revenue’s distribution. Many tribes simply distribute per capita checks to tribe members, which has often proven to be inefficient and wasteful. Instead, the three Chippewa tribes have promised to use the revenue to improve housing and education for their members – benefiting the whole tribe rather than dividing the money into unusable smaller portions.

A jointly run casino would, if financially feasible for the tribes, solve problems on both sides of the fence: It would provide approximately $164 million a year to the state, as well as needed revenue for the tribes. The “racino” would provide even more state revenue.

Those who philosophically oppose gambling will still be unhappy with Pawlenty’s plan. But gambling is not going to leave Minnesota anytime soon, and it will be best to take advantage of the revenue it creates. The “racino” is especially good, because Canterbury Park patrons already go to gamble, both on horse racing and poker; adding slot machines would not significantly change the experience. And if University funding is any indication, our state budget could use the boost.