Done Deal? The Star Lake Casino Project

The project would construct a third Shooting Star location on Star Lake in Otter Tail County

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — A proposed casino on an undeveloped portion of Star Lake is raising concerns and leaving questions unanswered.

Members of White Earth Nation and people of Otter Tail County are asking two questions: what does progress look like and what price are they willing to pay for it?

Minnesota is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”, and 25 miles northeast of Fergus Falls lies Star Lake, which is earmarked as one of the largest lakeside commercial projects in Otter Tail County history.

Star Lake

“In 1938, the United States government purchased a parcel of land and placed it in trust for the benefit of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe,” said Ty Dayton of the Star Lake Concerned Citizens’ Group. “They can derive additional economic benefit beyond the rice they do have the right to develop it in whatever means they deem appropriate.”

Dayton said this opened the door for the White Earth Nation to propose building a casino on Star Lake.

“We’ve taken on the position to build this to have a resort feel to it so that we can blend in with the other resorts that are in that area,” said Bill Marsh, CEO of Shooting Star Casino.

Artist’s rendering of what the proposed casino will look like.

The tribe believes the new casino will help them solve some financial problems and the growing needs of their community.

“When there’s more funding available for the tribe, then that money can be put back into programs to help people that are in need,” said Marsh. “This would provide further self–sufficiency for the tribe.”

But not all members of White Earth Nation agree.

“We have 30–40 percent unemployment for this region,” said Alan Roy, former Director of Strategic Affairs for the White Earth Nation. “So their argument that this would create jobs…this is going to create money, this is going to have this Reagan economic effect…this trickle–down economics…it’s a lie. It’s fallacy, right? What evidence do they have to prove that argument?”

“There’s got to be initiatives for the people to do things in the community to have our own way of making money and that way it goes into the tribe also,” said Damian Badboy, White Earth Nation member.

“They have an application in with the Army Corps of Engineers for dredging a wetland in order to build a casino where they want,” said Wayne Johnson, Otter Tail County Commissioner.

Johnson says the tribe has applied for a permit to build a parking lot within the county’s jurisdiction, but county leaders say there are other issues involved.

Where the proposed building of the casino will be.

“We don’t have a job shortage, we have more than enough jobs,” said Nick Leonard, Otter Tail County Economic Development Officer. “Today, our job is to find more workers.”

Leonard says workers are leaving big cities for smaller towns.

If White Earth Nation builds a new casino on these 14 acres, then they may gravitate to Otter Tail County.

“We know that people in their late twenties, early thirties and mid–forties are rebounding back to this area,” said Leonard. “They, to some extent, want their cake and eat it, too. Right? They want to be in a rural location, but they also want amenities. They want to have restaurants, they want to have arts and culture.”

The biggest key to attract more people to the county is to turn visitors into people who put down roots in the community.

“We lost, as I mentioned, 50 percent of our resorts,” said Leonard. “We are an area that needs to continue to grow as it relates to our recreational opportunities.”

Others within the county see things differently.

“This proposed site is actually on what’s called the south arm of Star Lake,” said Dayton. “This particular location is inappropriate. It would be out of character for a number of reasons. Primarily, our biggest concern are the environmental implications.”

“Part of that would be the aesthetic value. It’s not consistent, it’s not wildlife,” said Jason Gorr with the Star Lake Property Owners’ Association. “If you know that bay at all, it’s totally natural. There’s over five miles of undeveloped shore there. So, it’s a boggy shoreline. It’s undeveloped. It’s all nartorial acres. It’s under 15 feet deep, you know, renowned wild rice.”

“If you were to stand in the middle of the 14–plus acres where the gaming has to go, you are basically standing in hip boots in the middle of a marsh,” said Dayton.

“If we think that every foot of shoreline that isn’t staked off as a waterfowl production area currently needs to be developed, even swampy lowlands and boggy areas, what are we asking for our future generations?” asked Gorr.

But, concerns over the project aren’t limited to the environment.

“What is the long–term and short–term benefit to this? Nobody’s answered that clearly,” said Gorr.

“These employers have a hard time staffing up their businesses as it is,” said Dayton. “You add a 250–person business, it’s already difficult.”

Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen

Ground has yet to be broken on the Star Lake Casino project, and future discussions may not stay as civil.

“This isn’t about me. It’s about my children, my children’s children. I’d like them to have their kids someday come to this property,” said Dayton.

“Only more development follows if we’re able to move forward and create the facility that we want to,” said Marsh.

“Building more casinos won’t create more jobs,” said Roy.

“If this increases our ability to recruit people to live and work here, that would be fabulous,” said Leonard.

“I just think that there are certain areas that are sensitive or key to that lake having the quality it has and we need to preserve those,” said Gorr.

“We know there’s a lot of undeveloped land in that area, and that with or without a casino, there’s going to be growth,” said Leonard.

“This is not a done deal. It’s far from a done deal,” said Dayton.

The Otter Tail County Board is still waiting for a completed worksheet listing all the details about the project.

The project will then be forwarded to a state environmental quality board for review and opened for public comment.

For a link to the project details, click here.

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