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Bill would allow slot machines at Canterbury Park
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An artist's rendering of the new Racino, a proposed expansion at Canterbury Park which would house 2,000 video slot machines. (Image courtesy of Canterbury Park)
State lawmakers renewed efforts Monday to put video slot machines at the Canterbury Park race track in Shakopee. Canterbury already allows horse race betting and provides a card club for poker games. Supporters say adding video slots will have little affect on the gaming industry -- while providing tax revenue for state coffers. But opponents say the plan would clear the way for an unprecedented expansion of gambling in Minnesota.

St. Paul, Minn — They're calling it the Racino. It would include up to 2,000 video slot machines at Canterbury Park, plus a 250-room hotel and conference center. Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna, is the lead author of the proposal in the Senate. Day says his plan would divert 40 percent of the gambling proceeds -- minus what's paid out to winners -- into the state treasury. And he says Minnesota can't afford to pass up the deal.

"With a $4.2 billion deficit and a serious desire to solve the deficit without new taxes, we need to create new revenue sources more than ever," says Day. "No one idea will solve the budget deficit. But the Racino would give us a good start."

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Image The exterior of the Racino

Day estimates the Racino would generate $150 million in state revenues over the next two years. That's roughly three percent of the deficit projected during that period. But Canterbury CEO Randy Sampson says the project's value extends well beyond the current fiscal crisis.

"This expanded vision for Canterbury Park will create a comprehensive destination entertainment complex that will maximize our property's economic development potential, job growth, tourism opportunities, and, most importantly, will maximize revenues to the state and to the horse industry," Sampson says.

Under the proposal, the owners of the horse track would spend about $90 million to build the addition, along with the hotel and 3,000-seat equestrian center.

Gambling proposals emerge frequently at the Capitol, and most have faired poorly. The last successful bill, which passed in 1999, opened the current poker room at Canterbury. But last year, more than half a dozen gambling bills were introduced and defeated.

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Image Sen. Dick Day says the state could use the money.

Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, heads the State and Local Government Operations committee, which has jurisdiction over gambling issues. Vickerman says he's willing to consider the Racino proposal -- but he says, personally, he finds gambling proposals a poor cure for fiscal woes.

"Gambling comes from somebody who probably can't afford to gamble. So what do we gain?" Vickerman says. "And it's such a little bit. I'm just afraid that we're going to cause more trouble for people who gamble who can't afford to gamble. And then we're going to turn around and fund programs to help them get out of it."

The Racino plan will also face vigorous opposition from Indian tribes that already operate lucrative casinos. John McCarthy is the executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association. He says it's disingenuous to say the Canterbury Racino isn't a significant expansion of gambling.

"If they believe that by allowing Canterbury to do this that it stops there, then they know better. They know that it won't stop there," says McCarthy. "They know that the bar owners are just waiting in the wings, as are the resorters and many, many other folks that are out there that say, 'Well, if you can do this for Canterbury, you can do this for us.'"

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Image Canterbury Park CEO Randy Sampson

The budget deficit, however, may alter the terms of the debate. House Speaker Steve Sviggum has traditionally opposed efforts to broaden or expand gambling. He now says he'll support the Racino. The deficit, he says, is one reason. Second, he says, the tribes have continued to expand the casinos on their reservations -- all without contributing directly to state revenues.

"Ten years ago, I'd have said no. Absolutely no involvement in gaming -- state shouldn't be involved, the state should not be enhancing gaming. And I look back 10 years, and gaming has expanded," Sviggum says.

Sviggum says at some point, the state should consider capturing some of revenues from Minnesota's gaming industry. But McCarthy says the gaming compact signed between the state and the tribes was meant to protect Indian gambling as a economic development tool for economically struggling Native Americans.

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