Everybody has an opinion on proposed Star Lake Resort, Casino project–but some are less prominently heard: Tribal members OPPOSEDto the project… …Star Lake property owners who FAVOR the casino

Artist rendering of the new Star Lake Casino, which is set to be built near Dent.

There’s no shortage of opinions on the proposed Star Lake Resort and Casino project–some of which are likely to be voiced June 15 in Pelican Rapids.

But some of the viewpoints that may not be heard come from two distinctly different directions:

• Star Lake area residents who are not opposed to the White Earth Nation’s proposed casino. The most prevalent voices are those Star area property owners who oppose the project.

• White Earth Nation tribal members who are leary of the massive investment in yet another casino–coming on the heals of the opening of White Earth’s Bagley casino which, by some reports, is not meeting revenue expectations.

“I oppose the project,” said Alan Roy, a registered White Earth member, who intends to run for tribal council in early 2018. “I’m concerned about the market conditions…the state is saturated with gambling opportunities.”

Further, Roy and other tribal members are concerned that the previous tribal administration did not consult with members before committing to the large investment on Star Lake. Last year, White Earth built the Bagley casino. Financial reports have not been public to tribal members, but based on superficial evidence, the casino is not performing as well as projected, said Roy. Tribal members are not even informed on what the Bagley project cost, but the most common figure is $17 million.

“The tribal council has yet to release financial reports,” said Roy. “We don’t know how much money we have; we don’t know how much we’re spending…Tribal members just aren’t informed.”

Another tribal member, Natalie McCarther, believes the Star Lake casino should have been placed before members for a vote. “An expenditure of that amount should be a referendum before the people.”

Audit reports, financial statements and revenue-expense figures have been scarce, but both Roy and McCarther believe the investment in Star Lake could be as high as $100 million.

“How they intend to pay for Star Lake is unclear,” said McCarther.

The “flagship” of White Earth’s gambling operations is believed to be slipping in gross revenue and profit, said Roy. But again, there was little released in hard numbers from the tribal government, said Roy.

The Bagley casino appears to have fueled scepticism among many tribal members.

“When the Bagley casino was announced, they had basically already broken ground…and few people event knew about it,” said McCarther, describing the tribal council’s preparation for the Bagley project–and now Star Lake–as “sneaky.”

Star Lake resident believes a ‘silent majority” accept casino–with proper oversight 

Meanwhile, the Pelican Rapids Press contacted a Star Lake resident whose opinion is at odds with the Star Lake Concerned Citizens Group–which is opposing the casino for primarily environmental reasons.

“I honestly think that there is a silent majority over here who are accepting of the casino,” said Mike Linnertz, who accepting of the casino,” said Mike Linnertz, who has lived full time in the Star area for about three years. “The people who are against it are the most prominently heard voices.”

Though he has no firm grasp on the numbers of people in favor or opposed, Linnertz bases his comments on his neighborhood.

“In talking to the neighbors, I would say most of them are accepting–with a slight hesitation,” said Linnertz. “Everybody has their own little concern that they hope will be taken care of.”

In Linnertz’s case, its traffic. He lives only a few hundred yards from County Road 41, which will be the main connection to the casino.

“But with progress comes change, and change is something we have to accept,” said Linnertz. “I think progress is great for the area.”

Linnertz believes the casino will be a “good revenue generator” for the area. It will bring in good jobs; at a good payscale, he said.

“With that revenue comes roads, improvements and possibly natural gas service…that would be huge for the area,” said Linnertz. “It will bring good things to the area. Sure, there are some negative effects, but if we learn to adapt and work together, everything should be fine.”

On the environmental front, Linnertz believes that the project will be closely regulated and monitored to minimize environmental impact.

“I don’t think the casino group has any intention of harming the environment,” said Linnertz. “Everything is going to meet regulations. I just don’t see a problem.”

Some White Earth members favor tribal vote to proceed with Star Lake casino

Up on the White Earth reservation, it is difficult to measure support or opposition. But in Alan Roy’s opinion, there is a growing opposition.

“People are not informed enough on the reservation,” said Roy. “Right now, I don’t think most would support the project as it is.”

Generally, Roy wants to see more permanent economic development solutions for the reservation–where unemployment is as high as 40 percent. According to Roy, White Earth only spent about $100,000 on conventional economic development–while spending millions on casino gambling enterprises.

At a March tribal meeting, there was a surprising number of questions and concerns raised about the Star Lake project, said Natalie McCarther.

“The feeling I came away with was that people are not interested in another casino that far from the reservation,” said McCarther. “They would prefer we enhance the ones we have; make them more profitable–rather than going into debt on a casino that is so far away from the people it was intended to help.”

Both McCarther and Roy believe the massive scope of the Star Lake project should require a vote of the White Earth people.

However, it isn’t so simple, because tribal government bylaws don’t have a clear provisons for referendum, said McCarther. Likely, the
bylaws would need to be modified. This ordinance change, with the notification and hearing process, could take 90 days alone. To get to the point of an actual, tribal-wide referendum, could easily push six months–or more.

To his credit, new tribal chairman Terry Tibbetts, just finishing his first year in office, has exhibited a desire to be “responsive and transparent and accountable,” said Roy.

“Our new tribal chairman wants to make sure the voice of members is heard,” said Roy.

The coming months–and the pending Star Lake Resort and Casino project–may be the biggest test for the new tribal chair and council.