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Turtle Mountain officials present plans for casino

GRAND FORKS — A Grand Forks casino run by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa is far from becoming reality, said City Council members and tribal representatives, who presented a proposal for the project Monday.

Four Turtle Mountain representatives attended a meeting of the council’s Finance/Development Committee and said that they wanted to reopen a dialogue with the city about a Grand Forks casino, a project that failed in the past.

Council member Doug Christensen, who is one of the two remaining council members from when the casino was originally proposed in 2004, referred to a resolution between Grand Forks and Turtle Mountain adopted in 2005 after initial discussions on a casino.

“That resolution has not been rescinded, and that resolution says we’re interested in working with the tribe,” Christensen said Monday.

But before the partnership can move beyond discussion, though, there needs to be more information, said Council President Hal Gershman, who was also on the council for the initial casino talks in 2004.

Gershman reiterated his opinion from those original discussions, saying that he wants to know what the public thinks of a Turtle Mountain casino in the city of Grand Forks.

“I want to have a public dialogue, and I think you do too,” Gershman told the Turtle Mountain representatives. “We need that public input.”

Past efforts

Efforts for a casino in Grand Forks died out in 2005 and 2009 because of lack of support on city and state levels. Christensen asked Monday: What’s different now than when the casino proposal was brought up in the past?

Tribal Chairman Richard McCloud said gambling is viewed differently. “It’s entertainment,” he said.

Also, this time, the tribe wants to make sure it approaches state and federal obstacles with city officials, McCloud said. A tribal casino operating off of a reservation would require approval at several levels, including the federal Department of the Interior and the governor, according to city staff.

The Turtle Mountain tribe is based on the small Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation about 85 miles northwest of Devils Lake, near the Canadian border.

McCloud said Turtle Mountain is the largest tribe in North Dakota, but also the poorest.

The majority the tribe’s income is from its reservation casino, McCloud said. An off-reservation casino in Grand Forks would provide jobs to boost economy on the reservation, where there is about 67 percent unemployment, McCloud said.

But it would also boost economy and development in Grand Forks, McCloud said. People who may drive to gamble in nearby Minnesota casinos could drive to Grand Forks instead.

Council members agreed to consider the issue at its meeting next week, and McCloud said he’d bring comments from Monday’s meeting to his council.

Turtle Mountain government will prepare a more detailed business plan for the casino, and the Grand Forks council will seek public opinion, they said.

Turtle Mountain representatives said they would make themselves available for a public forum at a future date.