Gambling: Seems everyone wants to game the system

  • Article by: GARY LARSON
  • Updated: April 30, 2011 - 6:58 PM

Indian gaming lobby and the DFL Party it props up prefer status quo.

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Hope Segonee, 12, and her mom, Blake Olson, of Apple Valley attended a rally held by tribal interests opposed to expanded gambling. Olson works at Mystic Lake Casino.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Untaxed casino profits propelled protesters to the State Capitol on Tuesday ("At odds over gambling," April 27), where they rallied against what they call "expanded gambling."

 Carloads of naysayers gathered on a cold, rainy day to preserve the tax-free stranglehold on lucrative "slot gaming" enjoyed at Indian casinos across the state.

Gambling proceeds at such places are untaxed under state-tribal "compacts," or agreements, negotiated on the watch (so to speak) of DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich starting in 1989.

Protesters' main focus Tuesday was to rail against electronic "gaming" at the two state-licensed horse racing tracks, a proposal that would yield an estimated $250 million in new revenues to the state each biennium.

Not chump change in these budget-challenged days.

Some protesters held placards insisting that taxed slots at the state's only two licensed race tracks might somehow cost them their casino jobs -- an irrational fear fueled by the monopoly-favoring Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA), sponsor of the anti-"expansion" rally.

About 1,500 participants showed up, say State Patrol estimates. The effort was certainly well-financed and well-coordinated, right down to the professionally printed signs on display. Few hand-scrawled placards were in evidence.

One printed two-color sign, "Don't Gamble With My Job," dripped with irony as well as rain water. Adding slot gaming at two racinos would only expand, not diminish, the number of job opportunities for casino-experienced employees.

But what does logic have to do with it? MIGA is full-bore against racinos. Monopolies abhor competition.

But the public is definitely in favor of racinos, a big hurdle for MIGA. Fully 70 percent of Minnesotans approve of this hybrid form of race-track wagering and casino gambling, according to polls.

The appeal is not only the $250 million gift horse to the state, but a needed boost to Minnesota's horse and tourism industries. Call it spreading the wealth, Joe the Plumber style.

Defeat of the racino bill would not only kill the $250 million, but also preserve a cozy political safety net at the Capitol.

Almost 95 percent of tribal political campaign gift-giving -- contributions from untaxed gambling revenue -- goes to DFLers. One could look it up in state campaign finance records, even if incurious news media will not.

The rich irony in the protest against the racino bill and lesser forms of "gaming" -- such as slots in bars -- is that, regardless of the outcome, the protesters' de facto monopoly will go on. The state-tribal compacts have no sunset date.

They are literally forever, a sweetheart deal of a lifetime, or two or three.

As a result, an unlevel playing field would continue no matter what happens to the racino bills.

Untaxed gambling profits would continue to fund lavish advertising to draw folks to the tribes' gaming meccas.

Untaxed profits would continue to aid tribal leaders' favorite party, the DFL, which after all hatched the never-ending compacts.

But what's not to love about two racinos to spread the wealth, boost the state's horse and tourism industries, produce a net gain in jobs and (egad!) offer gamblers a little choice?

Why, it's win-win-win!

Gary Larson is a Minnesota writer who has written extensively on Indian casinos.

  • related content

  • At odds over gambling

    Wednesday April 27, 2011

    To address the state deficit without raising taxes, Republicans are leading an effort to expand gambling. Indian tribes are not the only ones opposed to the idea.

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