The casino exception…and how to get it

Twenty-one tribal casinos dot the Minnesota landscape (see list here). Many of the casino set-ups include hotels, bars, and restaurants. They are big business operations and substantial contributors to Minnesota’s DFL Party. And they remained open for business as usual throughout the recent shutdown that otherwise hobbled smaller restaurants — smaller restaurants that had managed to survive so far. Many haven’t been so fortunate.

So far as I am aware, Minnesota’s maverick Alpha News is the first news outlet to take up the facts and consider the contradictions. Anna Miller’s Alpha News story on it is “Run by DFL donors, casinos remained open through Minnesota shutdown.”

You may recall the 1960’s British play and film The Knack…and How to Get It. Miller’s story might be headlined The Casino Exception…and How to Get It.

I have been dubious that restaurants are spreaders of COVID-19. I have been dubious that it was necessary to limit them to takeout business in order to suppress spread of the epidemic. I have asked the Minnesota Department of Health why it has said nothing about the health hazards of the casino operations and how many cases it has traced to the casinos.

In response to the first question the department proved evasive. In response to the second the department relegated me to my own survey of the casinos. (They have now promised to answer the question when they can rouse themselves to get around to it.) If anyone inside the Department of Health’s circle of media love bothered to ask the question at one of its recurring press briefings, the reporter would get a prompt answer.

Miller reports that “Minnesota’s Native American community accounts for 4,242 COVID-19 cases and 72 deaths.” The lack of interest in the media to the questions implicit in the case of the casino exception is another aspect of the story that is itself deeply revealing of our current miasma.

Miller’s story raises the legal question whether tribal sovereignty exempts the casinos from the jurisdiction of the governor’s emergency orders. Whether or not tribal sovereignty applies to exempt them, no legal consideration protected the casinos from public comment on the health hazards they raised by remaining open, if in fact remaining open raised a hazard. If they didn’t raise such a health hazard during the shutdown, neither did the non-tribal restaurants and bars elsewhere in the state.

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