This time around, racino bill tied to job creation

The proposed racino
An artist's rendering of a racino at Canterbury Park, from when it was proposed in 2006. Proponents so far have failed in their attempts to get it approved in the Legislature.
Image courtesy of Canterbury Park

Two Republican lawmakers introduced legislation Monday that would allow Minnesota's two horse racing tracks to install video slot machines, sweetening the pot with a provision that proceeds would go to create jobs.

For years, supporters of the so-called racino concept have tried without success to pass similar bills. But they're optimistic about their chances this time, as the state's ongoing budget problems have given new life to several proposals to expand gambling.

During a morning news conference, state Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester and state Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont said their racino bill is the sixth — and hopefully last — version to come before the Legislature.

Like earlier proposals, the bill would authorize the Minnesota State Lottery to operate slot machines at two existing horse tracks, Canterbury Park in Shakopee and Running Aces Harness Park in Anoka County. But Senjem said the big difference this time is where the state's share of the revenue goes.

"The money is not going to the general fund to grow more government or anything like that," Senjem said. "It's going to go to a special revenue fund that is specifically dedicated to job creation and growth in Minnesota."

Senjem estimates that up to 400 video slot machines would bring in about $125 million a year to the state. The resulting Minnesota Future Fund would help new and existing business expand and create jobs. A new Vikings stadium is not part of the plan.

The biggest beneficiary of racino gambling would be the struggling horse racing industry. Senjem said he doesn't see anything wrong with a big state subsidy.

"They're going to have to hire security staff, hospitality staff, housekeeping staff," he said. "They're going to have some fairly strong obligations as well, and frankly they're going to want to be competitive."

Video slots would put Canterbury and Running Aces in direct competition with the casinos owned by Minnesota Indian tribes, who strongly oppose any expansion of gambling.

John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, said the market for gambling is already saturated, and racino could be devastating to the casinos.

"There's no job creation here. This is a job killer," McCarthy said. "What's going to happen to you're going to have a shift in jobs from one location to another. And in some cases unfortunately it's going to be from rural to metro."

The racino bill is among several familiar gambling proposals legislators are reworking this session. State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, is back with plan for a state-run casino at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, has a bill that allows bars to replace charitable gambling pull tabs with video screens. Ingebrigtsen doesn't view his bill as expanded gambling, but he said he's not opposed to an expansion.

"There's a fairness issue with the Indian gaming as far as I'm concerned," Ingebrigtsen said. "I don't see there's any reason why, and there's an awful lot of my constituents that think we should be able to do some of that at the state level too."

There's also been speculation for several years about a state-run casino at the Mall of America in Bloomington. No one has yet introduced a bill this session, but state Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, has taken a preemptive strike. Lenczewski introduced legislation that would require a vote in any city where new gambling is proposed.

"I don't think Bloomington residents want it," she said. "But even if they did, they'd at least have a vote to say yes or no."

Lenczweski is convinced that some form of gambling will come up as part of end-of-session budget negotiations, but she said she's not sure there are enough votes for passage. Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, has said he would consider some gambling proposals, if they benefit education and other state needs.

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