White Earth Nation saw fortunes change after winning casino case

The Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen, Minnesota. Photo from Facebook

The White Earth Nation of Minnesota could barely pay its employees when the tribe was locked in a long battle with a gaming developer, former chairwoman Erma Vizenor said.

The tribe was in debt $22 million after opening the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen in May 1992, Vizenor told The Bemidji Pioneer. Some $11 million was claimed by Gaming World, a company that financed the facility and was managing it under a disputed agreement.

“The tribe was on the brink of bankruptcy,” Vizenor, who was serving as 'secretary-treasurer at the time, told the paper.

In hopes of moving forward, the tribe terminated its agreement with Gaming World in August 1996, a moved that spawned years of litigation in tribal, federal and state court. The battle finally ended when the tribe's court issued an $18.5 million judgment against the company, a decision that was recognized in the state court system.

Leaders of the White Earth Nation of Minnesota break ground on the new Shooting Star Casino. Photo from Facebook

“Justice has finally come to White Earth on behalf of our people,” Vizenor said at a press conference in December 2011, Anishinaabeg Today, the tribe's newspaper, reported.

Vizenor, who was serving as chair at the time, is no longer leading the tribe -- she stepped down last month after facing opposition from her colleagues. But with its money problems out of the way, the Shooting Star enterprise has enjoyed consistent growth in the last few years. The tribe broke ground on a second location last November and a third is in the works.

“We went from 300 to over 750 well-paid employees, I say that’s growth,” Vizenor told The Pioneer, a big change from the days when no one would cash the tribe's paychecks.

Vizenor plans to run for secretary-treasurer in two years.

Get the Story:
Vizenor: A major player in White Earth politics (The Bemidji Pioneer 2/2)

8th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Gaming World International v. White Earth Band of Chippewa Indians (January 24, 2003)

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