Racing Commission should consider the big picture.
Today -- fittingly in Shakopee, named for a Dakota chief -- the Minnesota Racing Commission will consider whether to approve a chance for a positive turn in this state's relationships with its native tribes.
At the same time, the commission can contribute to the resurgence of the state's thoroughbred horse industry and settle a 15-year-old squabble at the State Capitol.
That's the big-picture significance of the business deal announced last week between Canterbury Park racetrack and operators of Mystic Lake casino, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.
The Racing Commission ought to be thorough in evaluating whether this deal serves the public interest. It should ensure that the arrangement, which involves the Mdewakanton Sioux paying $75 million over 10 years to Canterbury to bolster racing purses, does nothing to damage the integrity of the racing and card games offered at the track.
The commission is obliged to consider the implications for the other racetrack it oversees, Running Aces Harness Park in Columbus. That track's leaders are unhappy with Canterbury's part of its proposed bargain: It would no longer seek the Legislature's approval for the installation of 2,000 slot machines on its campus as part of a "racino," and it would actively oppose other racino proposals, including one by Running Aces.
But Racing Commission members also should look at the larger context of the proposed Canterbury-Mdewakanton connection. When they do, they will see much to admire:
• The accord would end a long-running rivalry between the state's largest Indian and non-Indian purveyors of gambling that, because of its racial and cultural dimensions, has not been good for Minnesota. Too often, that rivalry has been cast in unfortunate us-vs.-them terms and has been fueled by stereotypes and resentment.
A Canterbury/Mystic Lake linkage would reinforce a larger truth: Whether native or nonnative, Minnesotans are all in this together.
• The deal would offer an immediate boost to the horse industry, which has waned in Minnesota as Canterbury's ability to pay competitive purses has flagged in recent years.
"This more than doubles our purses -- it's exactly what we need," said Canterbury president/CEO Randy Sampson. After 15 years of begging reluctant legislators to let Canterbury go into the casino business, Sampson sounds relieved to have found a less controversial way to achieve what he says was Canterbury's aim all along -- sustainable horse breeding and racing in this state.
• The agreement, instigated in part at the urging of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers, won't completely remove the racino debate from the Legislature's agenda -- not if Running Aces leaders have their way. But Canterbury's promise to oppose any new casino for at least the next 10 years deals such efforts a major blow.
For those who agree with this newspaper that state services are better financed with broad-based general taxation than with gambling's spoils, that's a good thing. A racino at Canterbury has been presented as a temptingly easy solution to the state's budget woes.
Yet through years of both DFL and GOP control, a majority of legislators have concluded that education, public safety and other services that benefit the whole state ought not be financed disproportionately by slot machine players.
We hope the end of the Canterbury/Mdewakanton racino debate helps state lawmakers turn their attention to fairer, more transparent means of paying for government. And we hope Running Aces and other Indian tribes will see in Shakopee an example of creative collaboration that inspires them to explore joint ventures of their own.
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