White Earth Band Steps Into Vikings Stadium Sweepstakes

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — A Minnesota Indian tribe upped the ante for a new Vikings stadium on Thursday.

But the offer to help comes as lawmakers are leaving the Capitol for a long break with the stadium deal in limbo. The high stakes gamble comes from the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. It’s Minnesota’s largest Indian tribe, and also the poorest.

White Earth Band officials are prepared to put $400 million on the table to get into the casino game. They upped the ante with a bold pledge to pay the state’s entire share of a Vikings stadium, and $1 billion besides.

“It is now the Governor and the legislators turn. You have the ball,” said Erma Vizenor with the White Earth Band. “It’s time for Minnesota wins. Minnesota wins is the only solution, the only solution that meets the common sense test of fairness and no new taxes guaranteed.”

In return for a Twin Cities casino, White Earth officials say it will pay $400 million upfront for a Vikings stadium, build the $700 million casino itself and split the profits 50-50 with the state. That’s estimated up to $1 billion over five years.

“White Earth has moved the ball to the goal line. White Earth is ready to go,” Vizenor said.

The White Earth proposal was barely launched before it landed with a thud. Just 49 minutes later, the House Speaker called it a bad bet.

“A lot of these gambling options we’ve gone through, the voters aren’t there in committee or in the body so let’s stick with what works. That’s an expansion,” said House Speaker Kurt Zellers.

So where does that leave the Vikings? In the game, but barely. Gov. Mark Dayton listed the stadium as his near-top priority but is doubtful Republicans leaders share his enthusiasm.

“School’s out. It remains to be seen whether they are sincere in their intention to take this to the floor and get a vote and let 201 legislators decide or whether they are still playing games,” Dayton said.

There’s difficulty at the Capitol to be sure, but White Earth faces its toughest opposition from fellow tribes, who operate casinos in the Twin Cities.

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