A long and rancorous relationship between Canterbury Park horsemen and Indian gambling interests has yielded a rare agreement that would allow an increase in Canterbury's poker and blackjack business and pave the way for racetrack simulcasting and off-track betting at Indian casinos.
"It's somewhat akin to bringing the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings together to do something positive," Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said Monday as the House passed the agreement and sent it to Gov. Mark Dayton. Canterbury and the tribes have long fought over the idea of allowing slot machines at racetracks. That plan, called a racino, would put the tracks in direct competition with tribal casinos.
This year, horse industry officials searched for another way to help the racing industry by increasing revenue for its purses. Several weeks of discussions among the principals resulted in an amendment to a minor bill that rapidly hit the Senate floor late Saturday and the House floor on Monday, without any of the normal committee hearings or oversight.
The amendment would allow Canterbury Park in Shakopee and Running Aces Harness Park in Columbus to increase the number of poker tables in card rooms from 50 to 80, to increase poker limits per bet from $60 to $100, to allow unlimited tables during poker tournaments and to allow banked card games -- primarily blackjack -- in which gamblers play against the house and not just each other.
Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, who offered the amendment on the Senate floor late Saturday, said the plan would give the tribes the ability to show telecasts of horse races at Canterbury and other tracks, and to allow betting on the races. "This would set up a framework for racetracks and tribes to enter into an agreement on simulcasting,'' she said.
The amendment passed the Senate 44-18 on Saturday and the House 97-34 on Monday. A spokesman for Dayton's office said the governor has not yet reviewed the bill.
On the House floor, opponents argued that the bill was never vetted in committee, and spoke to nationwide concerns that racetrack casinos raise purses to the point where marginal horses are being entered. "You encourage people to run horses that might be injured," said Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis.
But overall, the legislative response was positive. "This is a great proposal," said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove. "It's all about this horse industry," added Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester. "I think without it, we lose the track," he added.
By some estimates, the new revenue could increase purses at Canterbury as much as 40 percent, said Ron Rosenbaum, who represented Canterbury in the drive for a racino. "It makes this a much more attractive venue for Minnesota-bred horses, and horses around the country," he said.
John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, representing tribal casinos, said this was "primarily an initiative from Canterbury." He added, "If it ... gives them additional tools to work with, the tribes are not going to oppose it."
Supporters of the agreement said this should put the racino idea -- which some had touted as a possible alternate financing plan for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium -- on the back burner. But if Dayton signs the agreement, the question of whether it authorizes off-track-betting could be litigated.
During a Canterbury financial crisis in the early 1990s, a state law allowing off-track betting was declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. A 1994 constitutional amendment seeking to allow off-track betting was defeated, and the prohibition remains in place.
Staff writer Jennifer Brooks contributed to this report. Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042