The Casino-Rich Whales of Minnesota's Shakopee Tribe

Curbed

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The Mystic Lake Casino, one of two operated by the Shakopee tribe.

A generation ago, according to a report by the New York Times, members of the Shakopee Mdewakanton of Minnesota were living "in a motley collection of beat-up trailer homes, melting snow for bath water when wells froze over because they lacked indoor plumbing." Now, thanks to the ingenuity of the tribesmen, the close proximity to Minneapolis, and their sovereign right to erect a casino, the tribe is absolutely rolling in cash. The tribe operates two casinos, a championship golf course, a 600-room hotel, and a concert hall, raking in an estimated $1B a year in revenue. Considering there are only 480 members, that leaves plenty to go around.

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↑ According to 2004 divorce court papers, each adult member of the tribe receives a monthly check for $84,000. That's $1.08M per year, per person. Better yet, for those who live and work on the reservation, that payment is free from state income taxes. Best of all, employment in one of the tribe's businesses is entirely voluntary. Stanley R. Crooks, the tribe's current president, claims the tribe has "99.2 percent unemployment." Yes, that's right, one need not even work for it. That leaves plenty of time for dreaming up ways to spend all that cash. Apparently, few tribe members choose to build lavish homes, though there are a few on the reservation, like the sprawling copper-roofed mansion pictured above.


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↑ Many tribe members buy second homes away from the reservation, but others choose to spend their income on toys—boats, recreational vehicles, and exotic cars—and, by the looks of it, build huge hanger-like private warehouses in which to store all those toys. This sizable mansion on the Prior Lake reservation, an area home to the bulk of the tribe, is dwarfed by one such giant garage.


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↑ At least judging from the available aerial photography, the relatively recent surge in wealth has not detracted much from tribal heritage, as many of the luxe homes are accompanied by a teepee on the lawn. Even more remarkable, though, is the tribe's philanthropy. Since 1996, the Shakopee tribe has donated some $243.5 million to local charities and poorer tribes. In 2010 alone, the tribe gave away some $28.5M in charitable gifts, outdoing big local names like the 3M Corporation, despite the fact that the tribe receives no tax benefits.


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↑ The easy riches have some tribe members complaining that it is difficult to teach their children the value of money, "when everyone knows no one will likely ever need to work." According to the Times, tribe members take up "expensive hobbies like thoroughbred breeding, big game hunting and elaborate trips—which sometimes last for months" and sometimes have trouble finding ways to spend all that cash. Envy-inducing, perhaps, but not unusual for a whale.

· $1 Million Each Year for All, as Long as Tribe's Luck Holds [NYT]
· All Whale Week 2013 posts [Curbed National]

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