Erhart says racino would add 500 jobs

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY
  • Star Tribune
  • November 12, 2011 - 9:59 PM

Did the Anoka County Board gamble away a shot at 500 potential jobs at Running Aces Harness Park by rejecting a proposal to endorse slot machines at Minnesota racetracks?

Absolutely not, said Commissioner Matt Look, who voted against the racino measure last week. But Commissioner Dan Erhart disagreed, saying in his proposal that racino could help fund a Vikings stadium and schools and would add 500 jobs to the Columbus track and another 500 temporary construction jobs.

The proposal was rejected by a 4-3 vote, with Chairwoman Rhonda Sivarajah -- one of the no votes -- saying that any approval of a racino should come from the city of Columbus or the Legislature.

Indeed, any racino plan would have to be approved by the Legislature, but Columbus Mayor Dave Povolny said that the City Council unanimously passed its own resolution favoring "electronic gambling" at Running Aces in February. "I'm definitely in favor of racino -- and so is nearly everyone in the area that I've talked to," Povolny said.

Povolny said that as of Thursday, a petition endorsing racino had amassed 6,070 signatures -- 1,539 of them from Senate District 52, which includes portions of Washington, Chisago and Anoka counties.

"It's overwhelming, the number of people who want it," Povolny said. "We want proceeds that can go to the brick-and-mortar stores here. We want to support the Vikings, who support a plethora of businesses and novelty jobs.

"And we need the jobs. Can you imagine what 500 new jobs and the 550 potential workers needed to build onto Running Aces for racino. ... Can you imagine what that will do for our tax base?"

They're off and debating

The board's rejection of racino sparked an interesting debate at last week's meeting, "but I don't think our opinion will count terribly much," Look told fellow commissioners.

Joining Sivarajah and Look in voting against Erhart's proposal were Jim Kordiak, who said the issue needs more time for consideration, and Robyn West.

Three high-ranking Anoka County officials said Friday that Kordiak is expected to revisit the proposal in some form and call for another vote, possibly at the next board meeting. Kordiak could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Look said at Tuesday's meeting that racino "is not the only option the county has for jobs" but didn't list other additional options the county has to find hundreds of jobs, and none of the other commissioners pressed him.

On Friday, Look said emphatically that "this is not our last hope for jobs." He called Erhart's proposal "a political vote aimed to drive a wedge between board members."

Look also told the board Tuesday that he could not support an extension of gambling, citing "social ramifications."

"We already have gambling," said Commissioner Carol LeDoux, who supported the Erhart proposal.

Commissioner Andy Westerberg, who also favored racino, said polls show 80 percent of the public supports it. But Westerberg said crafting a quick proposal would be difficult. He was right.

Erhart is a member of the Minnesota Racing Commission, which will meet Thursday in Shakopee. Among the topics will be a racino bill that contains an equine development provision. Erhart said that racino is needed to generate the revenue necessary to attract top horses to Minnesota.

He did not mince words when discussing his frustration with the County Board's rejection of "potentially good, solid economic development."

"This board hasn't done anything for economic development the whole year," he said.

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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