Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Let's get rid of the casino monopoly

Everyone is entitled to an opinion and when it comes to the topic of gambling and whether casinos in Minnesota should be a tribal-only affair or if private or state ownership should be allowed it seems that everyone does have an opinion on the matter.

When I saw that a "Staff Council" (spokesperson) from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community had written a response to a story appearing in some southwest metro newspapers, I kind of knew what to expect. I figured that the stance would be "Where's the SMSC side of the argument?" "That story was very anti-tribal." "We don't have a monopoly in the casino business." Blah, blah, blah.

Of course the SMSC spokesperson is going to be against any additional casinos in the state. They are, by a long shot, the richest tribe in the country. Chalk it up to proximity to the 16th largest metro area in the country and you can see why. With a population base of nearly 3 million within a hour's drive, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community has built a damn empire on Scott County Highway 83. With their original convenience store, another purchased from Kwik Trip, their organic foods market (Mazopiya) a health clinic for their tribal residents, a fire department that serves their community as well as surrounding areas their high-rise hotel and two casinos (Mystic Lake & Little Six); their reservation -- to me at least -- qualifies as an empire, at least when compared to the businesses and wealth held by other Native American tribes around the country. But it seems that the SMSC is still not happy with the Native American monopoly on casino gambling in Minnesota and remains staunchly opposed to any expansions by other businesses.

The story is full of the same misleading messages used for many years now by the Canterbury shill machine. First, the addition of slot machines at Canterbury is a qualitative expansion of gambling. It would dramatically alter the make-up of who provides what types of games. Simply ask the question: how would Canterbury feel if the SMSC commenced operations of numerous poker rooms and pari-mutuel horse racing at Mystic Lake Casino?

I'm guessing that Canterbury Park would find a way to co-exist. They have managed to carve out their own niche even just two miles away from the state's largest casino. Yes, they added their card room to become a true year-around destination and while I'm sure they wouldn't be overly joyous if Mystic Lake Casino opened a card room of their own, they probably wouldn't cry foul like SMSC spokespersons who feel that their gambling monopoly is justified.

Second, the tribal governments do not have a “monopoly” on gaming in Minnesota. The gaming market is already divided in a way that brings revenue to the various operators. Canterbury has horse racing and a multitude of card games. The state government operates a diverse array of lottery games. The charities and bars sell pull tabs and can offer poker. Bingo halls are easy to locate throughout the state. And the tribal governments operate video slots and blackjack pursuant to the tribal-state compacts. There are plenty of gambling options in Minnesota today. No one has a monopoly on gaming.
Correct. To a point. Nobody has a monopoly on "gaming" in Minnesota. Gaming is a rather broad term. However, Native American tribes do have a monopoly on Casino-style gambling in Minnesota. None of the state's dozen or so casinos are owned by any other group than Native American tribes. While casino ownership lifted many tribes out of deep poverty and they have repaid their neighbors by funding infrastructure improvements, donated funds to worthy causes and improved their own fortunes (no pun intended) they have also done so due to their monopoly on Casino-style gambling. Nowhere else, outside of tribal-owned casinos will you find slot machines, keno, roulette or high stakes bingo. WHen something isn't available elsewhere, that comes off as a monopoly to me.

The tribal spokesperson also goes on to tout job loss at the casino that keeps him employed.

For every job created at a racino, there will be at least four or five jobs killed at a tribal facility.
That tells me that, unlike privately run businesses, tribal casinos are vastly overstaffed. I understand why, too. Mystic Lake Casino is practically overflowing with cash. To not be overstaffed would put the profits they make front and center. It all boils down to competition. Would Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake close its doors if Canterbury Park in Shakopee installed a few dozen slot machines? No. Would they have to try harder to pull potential customers a couple miles further down the road? Maybe. But Mystic Lake Casino has them beat hands down with the fact that they have a plush concert hall, bingo halls, huge prizes and giveaways, an attached hotel, three or four restaurants of different styles and a world-class golf course as well. If SMSC is so overly concerned about their future, why don't they do a show of good will and get in on the stadium game because even though William J. Hardacker mentions how little gambling revenues will do to balance the state's vast budget deficit, the big push for additional casinos in the state boils down to getting a Vikings stadium built.

Just think what kind of good will that the SMSC could display if they partially funded a Vikings stadium? Think how well they'd make out if they built, owned and operated a stadium? If they want to protect their slot machine (really, that's what their argument boils down to) monopoly then they need to play ball with the needs of the Twin Cities and Minnesota in general.

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