June 5, 2011
Protecting the Indian Casino Monopoly in MinnesotaBy Gary Larson
An abhorrent "counterpoint" in the StarTribune, Minneapolis's mainstream daily, by a longtime Minnesota casino lobbyist, is the very definition of demagoguery. Lobbyist John McCarthy's ad hominem attack on me, personally, while distorting the history of racino legislation at the legislature, is simple proof of wretched excesses and the loony tunes arguments surrounding a statewide issue of putting "slot gaming" at the state's racetracks.
Why StarTribune ran his heedless, reckless collapse of judgment, contrary to known facts, and potentially libelously, is somewhat of a mystery. McCarthy's nasty, jagged-edged May 4 piece, is called a "counterpoint" to my commentary, "Indian casino lobby and the DFL party it props up" (April 30) in the same newspaper. My op-ed favors the state legislature finally, after a half dozen tries, approving enabling "racino" legislation.
Racinos are relatively new, a term for the hybrid of casino-style gambling, such as "slot gaming,"at race tracks, both dog and horse genre. Twelve states now permit racinos, including New York and Pennsylvania, supporting larger purses (prizes) for racing, in some cases rescuing horse tracks from doom, thereby saving ten of thousands of jobs and paying taxes. (In Pennsylvania, nearly a three-quarters of a billion dollars in taxes in 2009 alone!)
The Minnesota casino lobbyist's "counterpoint," titled "Column put 'race' into racino proposal" (May 4) is a hit job. It reeks of willful, self-serving historical error, purporting for example, that bipartisan action at the legislature in St. Paul killed previous attempts to gain approval for racinos.
Bipartisan? Not so. Democrats in Minnesota -- here called DFLers, that strange amalgam of Democrat and Farmer-Labor Parties fashioned out of political expediency by Hubert H. Humphrey in the mid-Forties -- put up every roadblock to racinos in Minnesota. Period! They killed every bill to permit racetracks, or anyone else, such as the Mall of America or bars, from offering slot machines, by far the most popular form of state-sanctioned gambling.
Slots elsewhere, you see, would be competition -- thus, anathema -- for the DFLers' deep-pocketed campaign benefactors, indigenous tribes which happen to own and operate 18 casinos in this Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Sovereign, tribal-run enterprises, reservation-based, they rely on their friends in the DFL to defeat any like competition for the legalized gambling dollar. Newly enfranchised, heavily-lobbying wealthy tribes constitute a de facto gambling monopoly in Minnesota, blocking the door to any competition.
Casinos in the Gopher State enjoy enormous, untaxed profits on their gambling proceeds, money tapped liberally, like large-teated cash cows, for DFLers' political campaigns. That much is indisputable fact, reported to the state in campaign finance records.
(Casino interests in Minnesota are second only to the state's teachers' union in gift-giving to a the DFL. Some years casino-rich tribes rank #1 in gift-giving to their DFL allies in the Legislature. In 2011, to stem the rising public tide in favor of racinos, 40 or more lobbyists do the casino-rich tribes' bidding at the Legislature. Cost is no object, and lawyer-lobbyists are expensive creatures.)
Calling me "an old Indian fighter," as McCarthy does in his "counterpoint" on May 4, is a cheap shot, of course, and even figuratively, simply not true. For some ungodly reason he then labels my racino-favoring op-ed there as "...hate speech against native Americans." An untrue statement, reckless, demonstrably false, likely laced with malice aforethought, all the earmarks of libel if one were to pursue the obvious.
Put simply, he plays the race card, the last refuge of scoundrels, à la OJ Simpson's criminal trial. By flinging rhetorical mudballs, dissembling facts, he evidently has something to fear, and clearly, no regard for civil discourse or rational discussion. Name-calling will do.
What prompts a newspaper, even a traditionally slavishly liberal sheet such as the StarTribune, to publish such a counterpoint that labels me a bigot and spewer of "hate speech" toward a minority population?
Independent surveys confirm about 70 percent of Minnesotans want a racino in their midst. Does that make 70 percent of the state's population "old Indian fighters"? Does favoring racinos in the state's gambling mix amount to "hate speech against native Americans"?
Don't be silly. It is the mark of sheer demagoguery.
The shopworn tactic of labeling all who disagree with you bigots, even hate-mongers, is flung about with disgusting frequency nowadays, and carried unabashedly, almost cheerfully, by demagogues' camp followers including the "press." It recalls the bad old days of yellow journalism, of the penny press, when vendettas were "in" in print, and wars started for circulation's sake. Party first, truth second?
Name-caller McCarthy's day job is as executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA). On the side, he is a fund-raiser for his party's DFL candidates, serving no less as their campaign managers up north in a remote place named Bemidji, Minnesota.
Why are we not surprised by his dual role, quite ignored by news media, as casino lobbyist and DFL fund-raiser? It's silence of the liberals, protecting their own?
Okay, so wild-eyed partisan hyperbole is expected from a hired gun. But spreading blatant lies? Name-calling? Calling folks bigots? Not even black-hatted, now imprisoned Jack Abramoff did that while spreading around Indian casino booty to both sides of the aisle, and falling afoul of the law's demands.
McCarthy's smarmy pitch, dutifully picked up by toady news media, is that racinos at Minnesota racetracks would "expand gambling." Ah ha! At least since colonial days, patrons have flocked to racetracks to gamble, yes, not only to watch the ponies run. Fancy that! Gambling, at a gambling venue!
So much to criticize, starting with the copy editor's headline, "Column put the 'race' in racino proposal." My op ed did no such thing. The newspaper's unattributed headline is quite simply a lie. But then, headlines sometimes do that, leading readers astray from facts and other worthy notions.
In his text, McCarthy strays inexplicably to an event 153 years ago, "...the 1858 hanging of 38 Sioux warriors at Mankato [Minnesota]." Stated as if it had something to do with today's anti-racino wars, that 1858 event was Federal prosecution, during the Lincoln administration, of the last of warpath Indians, on trial for murdering and in some cases, scalping, hundreds of settlers on the frontier.
What the heck does that have to do with the racinos? Well, nothing. It is the mark of sheer, desperate demagoguery, illogical, a non sequitur of the worst kind.
That a then-dominant political party, the DFL, consistently, and bloc-like, voted to keep its deep-pocketed benefactors' casino game the only one in town, is quietly ignored by media. But some dare call a spade what it was: that the DFL Party is a lackey to its Indian paymasters, allowing for a bit of euphemistic fervor. To former Republican minority leader State Senator Dick Day (R-Owatonna), now with a racino-favoring lobbying outfit, the DFL is "a wholly owned subsidiary of the tribal casinos." Touché!
Well, let's see now: In 2010, Minnesota casino-rich tribes thrust $1.3 million into DFL hands, plus uncounted "529" ad money, according to state campaign finance records. In the election cycle before that, during which public smoking in tribal casinos was exempted from the statewide law, tribes tossed contributions of $1.2 million to DFLers.
Quid pro quo, anyone? Just coincidence? Sure, and pigs soar.
At one time a DFL majority leader claimed "slot gaming" exclusively at Indian casinos was an immutable "Indian gaming right." In an Orwellian twist, he gave new meaning to a bogus entitlement -- that a monopoly is racially bestowed, of all things.
That mantra about a "gaming right" evolved over the years, to a new rallying cry -- that granting such "rights" to anyone but the tribes, would be "expansion"! Ironically, Indian casinos did all the expanding -- from four to 18 in a dozen years. This fact was not reported or opined about by incurious news media.
Labeling any competition for Indian casinos as "expansion" is faddish, knee-jerk, de rigueur for the political left. Their allies, "news" reporters and editorial pages, recite the "expansion" line uncritically, as if Gospel. No one in news media here rocks the boat, preferring to recite the "expansion" mantra. All see the emperor's new clothes.
Paying off a political party in spades for protecting a monopoly is a forever thing in Minnesota. State-tribal compacts, negotiated (if that is the word) by a compliant DFL administration in 1989, have no expiration dates. No sunsetting, they just keep giving and giving, outlasting even the fully-charged Energizer bunny.
"For people like Gary Larson," McCarthy concludes in his hit piece, "it's a win-win-win when Indians lose." (Note: "...people like"?) His presumption is that "slot gaming" at two small-scale race tracks, both near the Twin Cities, would threaten a thriving empire of well-established, close-to-home Indian casinos that dot this state's landscape. They have an estimated operating profit -- after paying prizes! -- of $1.4 billion per year, and spend millions in advertising in friendly, ad-hungry news media. Is there a nexus here? One can only speculate.
Intellectual honesty and historical integrity are not in McCarthy's bag of tricks. Unapologetic editorial page staffers at the StarTribune who ran his possibly libelous, certainly lie-laced claptrap (sorry, no other word fits) ought to be ashamed. Free-flowing, uninhibited civil discourse on public issues is one thing, but smearing and spreading false notions are to be deplored in a just world.
Say you, "all's fair in love, war, and politics"? Think again. Where one political party conspires to trump all competition on behalf of its well-heeled benefactors, nothing less than institutionalized corruption is at hand. Not a pretty thing, one more reason a cynical public is turned-off by politicians' double-dealing, ranking them -- along with lawyers and lobbyists -- and journalists -- near the bottom of the ethical barrel. As formerly one of the last named group, I can only say, ouch!
Gary Larson is a retired newspaper and business magazine editor in Minnesota.
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