Supporters, opponents of gambling expansion speak at Capitol

Bar and restaurant owners are trying to convince state lawmakers to give them more charitable gambling options, at the same time that Minnesota's Indian tribes want to stop the expansion of gambling to protect their own casinos.

The group Profit Minnesota is backing legislation to allow the use of electronic bingo, electronic pull tabs and video lottery terminals. Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate and are still waiting for initial hearings.

During a State Capitol news conference Tuesday, St. Paul bar owner Dan O'Gara said the legislation would provide the state with new revenue and create jobs in the hospitality industry. O'Gara said bars are not trying to compete against tribal casinos.

"We're looking to keep our neighborhood customers in our places, and hopefully they come in and buy a sandwich and a beverage," said O'Gara. "That's kind of what we're looking for. We're not looking to open a casino on every corner in Minnesota. That's not our goal."

Just a few minutes later, hundreds of supporters of tribal gambling gathered in front of the State Capitol in a pouring rain, to show their opposition to the proposal.

The crowd, which included representatives from many of the state's 18 tribal-run casinos, listened to lawmakers and tribal officials vow to fight any more off-reservation gambling.

Tribal officials said their casinos supported more than 40,000 jobs in rural Minnesota, and that more state-sanctioned gambling wouldn't make money in time to help fix the state's 5 billion dollar budget gap.