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Red Lake Band members to vote on allowing alcohol at 2 of their casinos

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Tribe members of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa will be voting next month on whether to allow alcohol sales at two of its casinos, despite still keeping a ban on alcohol on the reservation.

The mandatory referendum vote will be held Aug. 19, when band members will vote on the sale of alcoholic beverages at the Thief River Falls and Warroad casino locations, an announcement on the tribe's website says. The result of the vote will be binding on the tribe.

This comes after the tribal council voted unanimously last week to let tribe members decide, Red Lake Tribal Secretary Donald Cook Sr. told the Bemidji Pioneer this week. If the referendum passes, the council will then decide if alcohol will be permitted for both on- and off-sale purchases, the paper notes.

Cook says this is a "win-win" for the tribe because proceeds from alcohol sales will go towards operating costs at the casinos, the Bemidji Pioneer says.

Tribal officials are stressing that this referendum will not allow alcohol on the "diminished reservation," the announcement says, meaning alcohol still will not be allowed on the Red Lake Reservation, nor at the Seven Clans Casino location in Red Lake, which it is considered part of the reservation that was diminished.

Alcohol sales have been a contentious subject in the area around the Red Lake Reservation – Minnesota's only dry reservation – for years due in part to the tribe's high rate of alcoholism and substance abuse, MPR News reported, with tribal leaders worried liquor stores in close proximity to the reservation would contribute to the ongoing problem.

In 1999, tribal members rejected a proposal to sell alcohol at the Thief River Falls and Warroad casinos, which are both more than an hour's drive from the reservation, but that vote was only advisory, reports note.

Earlier this year, the Red Lake Band said it was considering getting into the medical marijuana and industrial hemp business since it is now legal in Minnesota.

There are 11 Indian tribes in Minnesota that operate a total of 18 casinos throughout the state, the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association notes.

Of the state's four largest Indian casinos, Mystic Lake Casino, run by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, became the last one to offer alcohol sales in the casino when it lifted its ban in 2012, Twin Cities Business Magazine reported. The lack of alcohol sales at some Minnesota casinos had kept some guests from returning, the Star Tribune said.

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Starting Wednesday, Mystic Lake Casino Hotel will begin offering beer, wine and liquor, WCCO reports. Alcohol sales will first be offered in the Mystic Steakhouse, Meadows Bar & Grill and meeting and convention areas of the casino. It will be expanded to locations near the gaming floor over the next month.