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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published February 16 2012

White Earth casino not in the cards?

ST. PAUL – White Earth Nation’s proposal to build a Twin Cities casino to help fund a new Vikings stadium received little support from key policymakers Thursday.

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

“They are not in play right now,” said Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead.

Lanning 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. “The governor has said all along that he is open to any good idea, but he does not think a metro-area casino should be linked to funding for a stadium, due mainly to the fact that it will likely be tied up in litigation for years, and is not a reliable source of funding.”

Lanning said the White Earth plan could be part of the funding discussion if talks between Minneapolis and the team 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 isn’t 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.

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. The team’s Metrodome lease expired Feb. 1.

Vizenor said that the tribe has no preference where a casino is built in the Twin Cities area. She said the tribe is willing to set up a temporary casino to get cash flowing quickly.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.