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Casino Plan Revived for Canterbury Downs
By Mark Zdechlik
February 8, 1999
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The owners of Canterbury Park Race Track in Shakopee are trying to revive a plan for casino gambling. A year and a half ago lawmakers rejected a casino proposal that was linked to a new Twins stadium. This time backers are NOT talking about a stadium. Instead, they say most of the revenue could be used for anything from reducing taxes to increasing spending on education. The governor says he's open to the idea.


Sampson : We have been successful modestly as far as running Canterbury in the black the last few years.
Randy Sampson manages Canterbury Park for his family which owns a majority stake in it.

Events ranging from arts and craft shows to snowmobile races and concerts are augmenting proceeds from live horse racing during the summer and year-round simulcast racing. But Sampson says the track is not earning enough to offer purses comparable to other regional tracks. Without competitive purses , tracks have difficulty attracting quality horses and jockeys and ,most importantly, crowds to wager on races. But Sampson says if Canterbury Park had gaming similar to nearby Mystic Lake Casino, there would be enough revenue to more than double purses and to provide the state with as much as 30 million dollars a year.
Sampson : We would like to have blackjack as well as slot machines and, basically, have the same opportunities they have. So , I think it certainly wouldn't be as big or as grand as Mystic Lake but the picture I would paint is we would like to have something similar to what you see down there in terms of the types of games that they offer and the amount and number of slot machines and that kind of thing.
Sampson's proposal is almost identical to a plan state lawmakers rejected in the fall of 1997 when the legislature was considering building a new baseball stadium. Under the arrangement, the state lottery would operate a casino at the track with 1500 slot machines and 36 blackjack tables, which would have the capacity to gross nearly 90 million dollars a year. Canterbury's take would amount to about 15%; amounting to about 13 million dollars. Half of that would be earmarked toward bigger purses. The state would get about 30% of the take, which would amount to between 25 and 30 million dollars a year. Although the financial projections have not changed, Sampson says the "Casino at Canterbury" proposal is no longer tied to a stadium.
Sampson : The stadium issue didn't gain any public support but we have seen that the "Casino at Canterbury" has significant public support as well as certain legislative support. Various polls and other resources have told us that all of this makes sense and we've got the encouragement to go forward and pursue the effort again.
When asked recently whether he'd support a state run casino at Canterbury, Governor Ventura had this to say.
Ventura : I'm open to anything. Anything that comes to my desk, I read it and make a judgment at that point in time.
While the governor will say only that he's open to the idea of casino gaming at Canterbury , track backers seem fairly confident the Governor actually supports the idea. Since Ventura was elected, the price of stock in Canterbury Holding Company has nearly doubled. Ventura celebrated his November victory at the track. A week ago he hosted a Reform Party Superbowl party there.

Randy Sampson says his family made minor contributions to Ventura's campaign. He says the Ventura events at the track were handled in the same way all parties there are handled. Canterbury does not charge for rent and, instead, makes money on food and beverage concessions. Sampson says he's had no discussions with Ventura on plans for a state run casino.

Among the track's biggest supporters is the state's horse racing industry. Dan Millsness is the past President of the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association and the Horsemen's Benevolent Protective Association.
Millsness : We think the political decision of the Legislature is basic to our economic future; we've had success on the east coast and also on the west coast with other forms of gaming and it is a place that already has gaming and horse racing and pari-mutuel racing. So, we think it is a step.
Minnesota's Indian Tribes are probably the biggest opponents of the state entry into the casino business. John McCarthy is the Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association which represents 10 of Minnesota's 11 tribes. McCarthy says if the tribal casino monopoly is broken, tribes to expand their gaming operations.
McCarthy : If the tribe's are forced to compete, and I use that word forced because their intent is not to expand, but if they're forced to , it will then impact other industries who will come to the state capitol and ask for more gambling.
For example, McCarthy says if the state opens a casino at Canterbury Park, Mystic Lake Casino, one of the nation's largest tribal casinos, just minutes away, will likely get even bigger, and offer customers more attractive deals on everything from hotel rooms to food buffets. He says other tribal casinos will, in turn, step up their marketing to compete with Mystic Lake and Canterbury. Ultimately he says Minnesota resort, bar and restaurant owners will demand from state lawmakers a piece of the gaming action as well.
McCarthy : Any expansion of gambling is going to open up situations that are going to be detrimental to rural Minnesota, to the economy of rural Minnesota that are a slippery slope. Where do you stop when you start expansion?
The Minnesota Family Council is also opposed to any state run casino.
Prichard: : We feel gambling is a bad tax. If you want to go to the voters and say "we have these needs"e, the case should be married on the basis of the government programs; rather than "we can get some easy money from gambling proceeds".
Tom Prichard is the President of the organization. Prichard says to argue that an expansion gambling will solve a problem such as saving the horse racing industry, fails to recognize problems created by gambling.
Prichard : That's always the argument; that all the positives that can come from gambling , whether it's increased tax revenues or it's going to help this industry or that, I think we have to look at the cost side and the fact that addictions and other problems continue to grow.
In addition to opposing the Canterbury plan, the Family Council is calling on the legislature to increase the legal minimum gambling age from 18 to 21. Track officials say they expect to have a casino gaming bill in the legislature with in weeks.

Mark Zdechlik covers business issues for Minnesota Public Radio. You can reach him at