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New racino effort ties gambling to job creation

Posted by: Eric Roper under Minnesota state senators Updated: March 21, 2011 - 2:10 PM
Lawmakers placed their bets Monday on a proposal that would use slot machines at racetracks to fund economic development throughout the state.

It was the latest version of a perennial effort known as "racino," which would expand gambling at Minnesota's two racetracks, Running Aces and Canterbury Park. But rather than tie the extra tax revenue to a Vikings Stadium or deficit reduction, bill sponsors instead funneled it to a special "Minnesota Future Fund."

“The money is not going to the general fund to grow more government or anything like that," said Rochester Republican Sen. David Senjem, a Senate sponsor. "It’s going to go to a special revenue fund that is specifically dedicated to job creation and growth in Minnesota.”

The fund would be administered by the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Senjem said allowing for slots at racetracks will garner about $125 million a year in new revenue. Tribal interests said Monday that was a "sketchy" estimate.

The tribes, which currently operate about 25,000 slots, oppose the effort. John McCarthy of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association said the Mille Lacs Band, located nearest to Running Aces, could lose 40 to 50 percent of its gaming revenue.

McCarthy said they are concerned that more racetracks will follow if this bill becomes law.

“Our concern is that once this door is open, it doesn’t close," McCarthy said. "It just goes on and on.”

One racetrack remained hesitant to offer their firm support on Monday. Running Aces distributed statements at the press conference noting they have concerns about whether the bill treats both tracks fairly.

"While we have not seen Canterbury’s legislation, we hope the few remaining but very significant differences can be resolved as soon as possible," said Running Aces board member John Derus.

Bill opponents and supporters agreed Monday that, given the state's economic situation, 2011's racino proposal may have more fuel than past years.

“It is the sixth edition and I will tell you hopefully the last edition," Senjem said.

But will it fund a stadium deal? Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, said they did not want the language to be that "prescriptive" with the money, but he could see it being amended for that purpose.

“You can build a very good case that the Vikings stadium at a certain level is great job production and economic development," Gunther said.

He added that, theoretically, DEED itself could give the funds to a Vikings stadium.

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