State's 14th Indian-owned casino to open in Hinckley

Minnesota State Roundup

Published April 1, 1992  | April 1992 issue

The Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians plans to open its second, and the state's 14th, Indian-owned gaming and entertainment complex in mid-May.

Located at the Interstate Highway 35 and Hinckley exit, halfway between Duluth and the Twin Cities, the casino is the first phase of a proposed 400-acre complex on Indian-owned land that would include a hotel, recreational vehicle campground, golf course and night club.

The I-35 exit to Hinckley (population 946) is already a busy place. About 9 million people travel along I-35 annually, and of those, 3.5 million take that exit to Tobie's restaurant and recreation complex, also situated adjacent to the highway and employing about 350 people.

Grand Casino, the band's gaming organization, is banking on about 5 million visitors to their casino annually. And in anticipation of those large crowds, up to 1,400 people will be hired to staff the operation, which will be open around the clock every day.

Indians are receiving hiring priority. In fact, the tribal government is encouraging Chippewas to return to the reservation from the Twin Cities for work, says Barry ZeVan, Grand Casino's director of public relations. ZeVan adds that before the Chippewas hired 900 people two years ago for their sister casino in nearby Mille Lacs, unemployment on the reservation was 40 percent. Now it is zero.

But with only about 25 percent of the Hinckley casino jobs likely to be filled by Indians, that leaves plenty of positions for others in the Hinckley area. "We've been getting calls from the Twin Cities, St. Cloud and even out of state from people who used to live in Minnesota and want to return if there are jobs for them," says Colleen Volden, local Chamber of Commerce secretary.

"We're certain that the downtown will also benefit, Volden adds. "The casino will bring a cash flow through businesses downtown." To accommodate more visitors, the Chamber plans to open a tourist information center in a downtown museum.

Kathy Cobb