Minnesota Racetrack Calls Out Tribal Casinos’ ‘Illegal Games’ in RICO Suit

Posted on: April 18, 2024, 04:30h. 

Last updated on: April 18, 2024, 04:32h.

Minnesota casinos Grand Casino Hinckley, Grand Casino Mille Lacs, and Treasure Island Resort have been slapped with a federal racketeering lawsuit by a local racetrack that claims the three venues are offering illegal games.

Running Aces, Grand Casino Hinckley, Grand Casino Mille Lacs, Treasure Island Resort, RICO, lawsuit
The Running Aces racetrack in Columbus, Minn. argues local tribal casinos are offering unauthorized games that deprive the track of substantial revenues and profits. (Image: Lumenarius)

Running Aces harness track in Columbus argues in the suit that the casinos are in violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), as well as state laws. That’s because they are conducting class III card games that are not covered by their tribal-state gaming compacts, such as Three Card Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold’Em, the racetrack argues.

The Grand Casinos are operated by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and Treasure Island by the Prairie Island Indian Community.

‘Unauthorized Games’

In general, Minnesota criminal law prohibits card gaming except blackjack unless it takes place at a card room attached to a licensed parimutuel racetrack, according to the lawsuit.

However, as the lawsuit also notes, Treasure Island’s compact was amended six months ago to include other casino card games. Nevertheless, the casino committed infractions by offering unauthorized games prior to that amendment, the lawsuit contends.

By offering class III card games other than blackjack, defendants’ casinos have been able to attract many patrons who would otherwise have played card games at Running Aces, thereby depriving Running Aces of substantial revenue and profits—both from lost card gaming and from lost accompanying spending on food, lodging, and live entertainment,” claims the lawsuit.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act is a 1970 federal law that targets organized criminal activity and racketeering. But it can also be used in civil suits where an organization’s actions result in unfair competitive advantages.

Tit for Tat

The lawsuit is the latest chapter in the ongoing spat between tribal operators and the horse racing industry in Minnesota. The racetracks bitterly oppose a bill currently wending its way through the legislature that proposes legalizing sports betting for the tribes only, although the tracks would receive stipends from the new industry.

The tracks argue the stipends are insufficient to compensate for the damage to their businesses that would arise from tribal sports betting, which they claim poses an existential threat to the racing industry.

Meanwhile, the tribes are backing a bill that would reverse a recent decision to legalize historical horse racing machines (HHRs) at the racetracks. They argue the terminals are too close to slots and therefore violate tribal monopoly on class III casino gaming in the state.

Running Aces also complains in its lawsuit that the tribes have “vigorously tried to block Running Aces’ efforts to lawfully expand its gaming operations.” The Mille Lacs recently wrote to the Minnesota Racing Commission (MRC) opposing Running Aces’ request to “modestly expand its ‘dealer assist’ table games,” according to the complaint.

The tribes are yet to respond to the suit.