A referendum vote will be held by secret ballot on Tuesday, May 16, 2017, to help tribal members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe decide whether to replace the existing Palace Casino and Hotel with a new casino and hotel.

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe has been operating the casino in Cass Lake, Minnesota for more than three decades and in a week will vote on whether or not to spend between $45 million and $50 million to construct a new facility. According to the Notice of Referendum Vote, the proposed location would move the existing operation “to a site directly fronting U.S Highway 2 in Cass Lake.” The location was reportedly chosen based on a recent feasibility study.

Eligible voters residing both on and off the reservation who have up-to-date addresses on file began receiving mail-in ballots on the referendum in April, and a half dozen informational meetings have been held on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, as well as in other neighboring communities such as Duluth and Minneapolis, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

The referendum comes on the heels of a meeting in March where the vote was supported by the Leech Lake Tribal Council. Tribal officials said the Cass Lake facility has been plagued with mounting maintenance issues in recent years, according to the news agency.

Faron Jackson Sr., Leech Lake Tribal Council Chairman, was quoted by the news agency as saying that the tribe has been discussing replacing the casino for a couple of years due to its current state. He said, “The Palace itself wasn’t an original gaming building when it was established, either. It was made into one in the early ’80s and was remodeled, but it wasn’t built as a casino.”

Jackson reportedly said that as a result, a new building is being proposed by the tribal government. “We have some competitive loan companies that we’ve been in discussion with, but there hasn’t been one nailed down exclusively yet,” said Jackson. “We’re waiting for the outcome on the referendum. Everything is contingent on that.”

The last time a similar referendum was used on the reservation, said Jackson, was in 2000 and was part of the process to build its Northern Lights Casino located in Walker. Leech Lake’s third gaming establishment, White Oak Casino, is located in Deer River.

Jackson reportedly said that the existing facility would be closed and it would be used by the tribe for other types of services.

If the referendum is successful, construction would begin in spring 2018 and a nine-month construction schedule would be set in place. The expected completion date would be at the beginning of 2019. The Palace’s average employee base of between 300 and 360, is expected to grow to between 450 and 500 with a new Palace.

Jackson reportedly said that they want their gaming to be competitive and “We want to add more square footage and a water park. We want a cleaner building that’s more updated. One that can attract more customers to come visit our gaming establishment or shows,” according to the news agency.

Polling stations will be open on May 16, from 8 am to 8 pm,  and it’s likely that on the following day the official count verification for votes will be completed.

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