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Casino faces long but not impossible odds

Eliot Glassheim is right: Huge obstacles remain in the path of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, as the tribe pursues its plan to build a casino complex in Grand Forks.

This suggests that the odds are against the complex ever being built.

But those odds probably are not as long as they were in 2006, the last time the tribe approached Grand Forks. The prospects for the casino seem better this time around.

And that’s largely because as Chairman Richard McCloud’s column on today’s page makes clear, the Turtle Mountain Band learned a lot from its 2006 campaign. The tribe has studied critics’ objections to the plan with care and done a thoughtful job of answering them (or at least starting to).

Those objections rank among the biggest obstacles left over from 2006. There are others, including the need for state and federal approval of the tribe’s plan.

But to its credit, the Turtle Mountain band is taking a cooperative and nonconfrontational approach. The tactic may win a few friends for the tribe; it certainly won’t make enemies.

And if it succeeds in getting Grand Forks on board, then several of the other obstacles (such as state support) will become a lot less daunting, too.

In his column, McCloud cites studies suggesting that casino gambling in communities such as Grand Forks does not generate a host of social ills. Moreover, he claims, if Las Vegas successfully can market itself as a family-friendly destination, then a casino/entertainment complex in Grand Forks can as well.

McCloud also proposes a “unique and unprecedented approach:” a partnership in which Grand Forks plays a key role in the multimillion dollar marketing of the casino.

Among its other advantages, this arrangement could ease concerns among the Grand Forks nonprofits that depend on charitable gaming, a huge issue in 2006 and today.

“We will ensure not only that existing charitable gambling will not lose money but also that they actually will increase their profits and revenues through donations, sponsorships and marketing promotions,” he writes.

Here’s another factor that wasn’t present in 2006 but likely works in the tribe’s favor today: The energy boom. Will oil wealth and North Dakota’s brighter economic prospects deflect expected opposition — for example, from other tribes?

North Dakota is a different state than it was in 2006, and Grand Forks is something of a different city. There’s a chance that those changes will work in the Turtle Mountain tribe’s favor, helping the tribe map its way through obstacles that had been impossible to get around.