The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA)
IGRA was signed into law by president Ronald Reagan in 1988. It was written based on the premise that Indian tribes are sovereign nations that have the right of self-governance, which includes the authority of gaming on their own land. When it was signed into law, IGRA was enacted for three specific stated purpose, here given verbatim:
1. To permit Indian gaming as a way of promoting economic development, self-sufficiency, and strong tribal government.
2. To prevent the infiltration of organized crime and other corrupting influences.
3. To establish federal regulatory standards for Indian gaming.
The Casino’s Impact
The Grand Casino Mille Lacs opened in 1991, and has been enormously successful by any standards. It is operated by the Mille Lacs Band’s Corporate Commission, a separate entity from the Band’s government that oversees Band business opportunities. In 1990, the Mille Lacs Reservation was one of the poorest Indian Reservations in the nation, with a “poverty rate” of around 81%.
Today, this number has dropped to less than 17%. Poverty has also decreased sharply in Mille Lacs County as a whole and in nearby Pine County, where many Casino employees live. According to the Mille Lacs band of Ojibwe, the revenues from the Casino have allowed them to strengthen their cultural identity, return to economic self-sufficiency, rebuild the reservation, and increase regional prosperity.
The Casino, along with Grand Casino Hinckley (also run by the Mille Lacs Band) employs about 3,000 people, although only about 500 of these are working on a full-time schedule. Around 90 percent of the 3,000 employees are non-American Indian, and most employees live in nearby rural areas. The number of jobs in nearby Pine County has increased by about two-thirds since the Casinos were built, and the number of jobs in Mille Lacs county has increased about one-third. There are two different minimum wages on the reservation, variant depending on the size of a business, but both are more than 20 percent lower than the state minimum wage. Additionally, the tax capacity of Mille Lacs county has gone up 61% from 1990 to 2000.
Jobs in the area independent from the Casino have been created by neighboring businesses taking advantage of the visitor traffic generated by the Casinos, and as many as 40 new local businesses have sprung up to serve these needs since 1991. Small businesses created by the Mille Lacs Corporate Commission include a coffee shop, a salon, a horse breeding company, a gift shop, a sign company, a sewing shop, a lawn and snow service, and a construction company. Those living on the reservation pay the same taxes as any other Minnesota minus American Indians, who don’t pay state income taxes. Also, those living on trust lands don’t pay real estate taxes.
Service facilities such as the Onamia hospital have expanded, where now the Casino provides health insurance benefits to area residents previously without insurance. Local utilities have been expanded in order to serve the needs of the Casino and the area in general. The Casinos have given millions of dollars to charitable donations since 1991.
The Mille Lacs Band uses its revenues from the Casino and other Corporate Commission ventures to, in its own words: “invest in government services, health care, education, law enforcement, economic development, cultural preservation, infrastructure, land acquisition, and other benefits to band members,” and to “build long term savings and investments,” and “invest in community infrastructure, economic development, and other benefits for the entire region.”
Since the construction of the casino, the Mille Lacs Band has been able to address a huge number of building projects. They’ve built two schools, three ceremonial buildings, a language and cultural immersion grounds, two health clinics, three culturally sensitive assisted living units, four community centers, a government center, an office building, a DNR facility, a center for the elderly, two water towers, a water treatment plant, and over 200 new homes. They’ve also been able to spend money on road maintenance, the renovation of older homes, and all kinds of other projects and services. The band also holds investments in many of the more successful non Band-owned hotels, resorts, and businesses, ranging from Eddy’s Resort to a Conoco gas station to a Subway franchise.