Indian Casino Proposed for Grand Forks, N.D.

Oct. 11--A proposed Indian casino in Grand Forks won a measure of support from City Council members Monday night, though by their own admission, it was less than glowing.

The discussion centered on a resolution of support that the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa says is needed if it is to continue work on the project.

"The resolution ... is to continue the discussion," council president Hal Gershman said. "It's not a 'yes' or 'no' vote."

That's essentially the spirit of the document, which encourages the tribe "to continue exploration of what has to be done to develop an Indian gaming casino." It pointedly says the city will determine, at a later date, if the casino actually would be a good thing.

The balance on the council after Monday's meeting appears to be four in favor Gershman, Doug Christensen, Gerald Hamerlik and Curt Kreun two doubtful Bob Brooks and Dorette Kerian and one against Eliot Glassheim.

Though the resolution does not show full support, tribal chairman Ken Davis said after the meeting that he felt it was enough. "I feel as long as the City Council isn't strongly opposing us, we can move ... and continue to pursue this project."

The council would make a formal vote Oct. 17.

A key part of the resolution calls for more information about what benefits the casino could provide Grand Forks. The problem is the project isn't far enough along for that to be available. Davis said he himself doesn't know the answers.

Resolution supporters figured if they could keep the tribe working on the casino, they might get some of the answers they need.

This resolution is to listen to the tribe and see what it has to offer, Hamerlik said. "I think it's prudent of me to listen when somebody talks."

Gershman said given the apparent 50-50 split in public opinion, it's not really fair to either side to not hear the tribe out. "I don't think it's right for us to say 'yes' or 'no.'"

But that willingness to listen is about the extent of the council's support.

"I think this is the best we can do," Christensen said. "It would be incredibly irresponsible of us to embrace something we know nothing about."

He said he couldn't support, for example, an earlier proposal to turn 80 acres of land south of the city into tribal trust land, meaning it's essentially outside city jurisdiction. He's also worried about the casino's impact on the city-owned Alerus Center and the Canad Inns project, he said. And legally, he said, he needs to know the impact of having trust land nearby.

Glassheim said now is about the right time to "put a stake in the heart of this proposition." He verbally submitted a resolution opposing the casino.

Invoking the specter of "1,000 slot machines open 24/7," he gave a list of potential harm that will come Grand Forks' way.

The casino will offer only low-paying jobs and yet will suck in investments better spent on companies that offer better wages, he said. Gambling with its culture of easy money will undermine the moral fiber of the community, he said, and cause problems for police. Instead of spending money in the retail sector or spending it on charitable gambling, residents will spend it in the casino.

Davis argued that an Indian casino would be a big draw for tourists and wouldn't rely on locals. He said the tribe is willing to share revenues with charities, too. "Natives, we have a great custom of sharing, so great we shared our country with you."