Mike Kaszuba and Eric Roper
With speculation surrounding a proposed a state-run casino in downtown Minneapolis increasing at the Legislature, a lobbying group known as Minnesota Live! has been created and includes Ward Einess, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s revenue commissioner.
The new lobbying group, which was created last month, lists its director as Bob Lux, the new owner of Block E in downtown Minneapolis.
“I can’t speak about it at all,” Einess said Monday. “My client is Bob Lux. He owns Block E....We’re getting to the point where the train’s going to have to leave the station."
In February, Minneapolis officials said Lux – who has so far declined comment – had been quietly seeking support for building a luxury casino on Block E, the struggling mall across from Target Center that Lux bought a year ago. Ted Mondale, the new chair of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, who is working on a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, said Lux discussed his plan with him earlier this year.
While few legislative leaders said they knew details of the plan, they said such a proposal would certainly raise eyebrows as the Legislature finishes its final three weeks before a scheduled May 23 adjournment. It would likely also put political pressure on Republicans, who hold majorities in both the House and Senate, and have been internally debating the pros and cons of supporting gambling proposals as the state faces a $5.1 billion deficit.
“I’m certainly not a big fan of expanding gaming,” said Rep. Greg Davids, the House Taxes Committee chair. “But I certainly will hear those types of bills. [The supporters though will] have to get the votes in committee.
“I would hear those types of bills unless I hear from [Republican legislative] leadership that I’m not to hear those types of bills,” he added.
Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, the deputy majority leader, said Monday that “I know these guys are floating around” and pushing a casino plan but said he not seen the proposal . He said he was undecided whether he would support such a plan. “I’m not ready to say that, either way,” he said.
“I haven’t made any decisions on this,” Michel added. “And I’ve been told in some e-mails that there’s a bunch of people that are using my name with it.”
The rumblings concerning a downtown Minneapolis casino also come as Mayor R.T. Rybak may have slightly hardened his opposition to it.
Back in February, the mayor said he was opposed to a gambling expansion but added that if the Legislature moved to expand gambling, he wanted the new offering in Minneapolis.
On Monday however Rybak’s spokesman, John Stiles, said the mayor was flat-out opposed.
“The mayor is opposed to the expansion of gambling in Minnesota,” said Stiles.
He has had some meetings with backers of the downtown casino, Stiles said, “but remains opposed.”
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report.