BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – The owners of the Mall of America (search) have proposed adding a casino as part of a $1 billion expansion, although it faces long odds right out of the gate.
Minnesota lawmakers, and possibly voters, would have to sign off for a casino to be built there. Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty (search), who has proposed a new Twin Cities casino that would bring the state and northern Indian tribes extra cash, hasn't endorsed the mall casino but hasn't ruled it out, either.
Nader Ghermezian, president of the family business that developed and controls the 4.2 million-square-foot mall, said Tuesday night that plans to double the mall's size could hinge on the casino. The expansion also calls for a hotel, a concert hall, an ice skating arena, an indoor golf course, public gardens and high-end retail shops.
The expansion would make the mall the world's largest, surpassing the West Edmonton Mall (search) in Canada, also owned by the Ghermezian family. The Mall of America opened in 1992.
"When the Mall of America becomes doubled, it becomes a New York or an L.A. by itself," Ghermezian said. "You won't have to fly to Rodeo Drive or New York or Paris — it's all under one roof."
Minnesota's existing casinos are operated exclusively by Indian tribes, and they aren't required to share profits with the government.
Pawlenty has proposed that the state partner with three northern Minnesota Indian tribes on a casino. The deal would divert hundreds of millions of dollars to the ailing state budget while also allowing the White Earth, Red Lake and Leech Lake tribes to tap the lucrative Twin Cities gambling market.
The governor hasn't identified a favored site, but has said he wouldn't force one on an unwilling host community.
State legislators from Bloomington, where the mall is located, are united in opposition to adding a casino to the Mall of America. They said they would insist on a citywide vote before a casino could go forward.
Bloomington resident Steve Buck said he is not a fan of more gambling in Minnesota, but he said if it's going to happen, his city might as well benefit from it.
"If it's inevitable gambling will be expanded, then I think the mall is the best place for it," he said.
An attorney for the Mall of America told about 250 residents at a town-hall forum Tuesday that the Ghermezians won't proceed without the city's support.