Whether it's at the racetrack, a local watering hole or a luxury casino, Minnesotans want more gambling options, according to a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
The poll found that 72 percent want to end the tribal monopoly that has restricted casino-style gambling in the state to 18 American Indian-run operations. Asked which type of gambling they preferred, 37 percent of respondents said that they want an all-fronts approach that includes video slots at bars, restaurants and racetracks and full-blown casinos in downtown Minneapolis and at the Mall of America.
Lawmakers at the Capitol are eyeing a series of proposals that would expand gambling to bars, racetracks and a downtown Minneapolis casino, with profits taxed to provide additional revenue for state and local governments. By prior agreement with the state, tribal casinos pay no taxes. "If it makes money for the state, that's great," said poll respondent Jerry Brockman of Hastings. "They've got to cut spending, but we have to hunker down here and come up with some new money."
Of those who want more gambling, 20 percent preferred video slots at the two horse racing tracks, Running Aces and Canterbury Park, while another 12 percent favored a downtown casino. A megamall casino and slots in bars both ranked at 8 percent apiece.
Rep. John Kriesel, sponsor of the Block E Minneapolis casino bill and co-sponsor of several other gambling proposals, said he's not surprised to see strong support for more and varied gambling. "Minnesotans want choices, especially when it comes to their recreation -- in this case, gambling," he said. Kriesel said the poll backs what he's heard from the public. "I think legislators should listen to that."
John McCarthy of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association said people don't understand what casinos have meant to Indian economic development. "A lot of people don't [see] the full impact of what tribal gaming has done for the economy in this state," he said. "And so they're misinformed. I guess that would be my bottom line."
The poll of 806 Minnesotans, including land-line and cellphone users, was conducted May 2-5 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.
Tribal interests have lobbied hard against all expanded gambling proposals, arguing that they would cost thousands of existing casino jobs.
Some Minnesotans agree, with 23 percent of respondents saying the tribes should retain their exclusive hold on casino-style gambling.
"We've taken many things from the Indians, taken their lands and a lot of other things, so we shouldn't take this away from them," said Kia Misaianen, 22. "It's a little bit of a special benefit, true, but it seems like it's fair."
Support for expanded gambling was highest among poll respondents whose incomes were above $50,000 a year -- more than 78 percent of them favored it. Age also played a role: Eighty-one percent of respondents ages 45-64 said casino-style gambling should be opened to nontribal operators.
Proposals are faltering
Expanded gambling has generated plenty of discussion at the Capitol, but so far has made little substantial progress.
Many Republicans lawmakers appear to be hewing to their party's position against expanded gambling, although some have broken off to support certain proposals. Republicans control both houses of the Legislature this year for the first time since partisan elections began. DFLers have typically opposed breaking the tribes' monopoly, although DFL Gov. Mark Dayton supported a state-run casino during his 2010 campaign.
A bill that would pave the way for a casino at Block E in downtown Minneapolis was introduced in the House Friday with no co-sponsors -- a sign it may not have much support among lawmakers.
The perennial effort to allow slots at racetracks, known as racino gambling, was slated to be heard in two committees last week but never got a vote. That bill would send an estimated $125 million a year in new revenues to a special jobs fund.
Last week, Dayton said a bill to allow slot machines in bars was likely dead for this session. Backers said that proposal could have generated more than $600 million a year for the state.
The governor said he wants any gambling expansion to send half the revenue back to the state.
"The only way I would support these -- if I do -- would be if the state is going to get a fair and sizable portion of the proceeds for economic development and education," Dayton said.
On Friday, state Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton said in a weekly newsletter to subscribers that he wanted to be "perfectly clear" that "any scheme to generate revenue" for the state runs counter to the party, its platform and candidates' campaigns.
"There is nothing conservative, Republican or 'free market' about current proposals to expand gambling," Sutton wrote.
That same day, two freshman members of the House introduced a bill that would outlaw all casino-style gambling in Minnesota and nullify the tribal compacts allowing it.
Some poll respondents think lawmakers should be pursuing a more open approach to gambling.
"Anyone in the state should have the right to open a casino if they want -- anyplace, here in St. Cloud, the cities, wherever," said poll respondent Jim Stephanie, 66, of Benton County. "And the state should definitely get a cut of it because we need the help."