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House moves to expand gambling with passage of 'Racino' bill
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Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, says the bill would also generate $100 million over the next two years for the state. (House TV photo)
The Minnesota House has passed a bill that would allow Canterbury Park horse track in Shakopee to add 2,000 slot machines to the facility. The House voted 71-to-60 in favor of the bill. Lawmakers made one significant change to the bill. The "Racino" would not be built if Native American tribes agree to give a portion of gross gambling receipts to the state and agree not to expand gambling. Opponents say the bill will create more social problems and take casino jobs away from rural Minnesota.

St. Paul, Minn. — Supporters of the bill say the Racino will help the state in a variety of ways. They argue that it would create 1,400 new jobs. Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, says the bill would also generate $100 million over the next two years for the state.

"That revenue is going to help us with cuts to local government aid. That revenue is going to help us potentially offset to cuts to nursing homes. It will help with a variety of areas as we look at our fiscal situation," he said.

It's a typical gun-to-the-head approach.
- John McCarthy, the executive director of the the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association

Supporters of the bill also raised the stakes when they attached an amendment that would allow the Native American tribes to stop the Racino.

Rep. Mark Olson, R-Big Lake, says the tribes would have to agree to give at least six percent of their gross gambling receipts to the state and agree not to expand their gambling operations.

"We don't want to do what we have to do, what we're proposing to do with this Racino bill, and if the tribes come forward and voluntarily agree to this or more out of the generosity of their hearts, out of appreciation of having monopoly status, then we won't go forward with competition," he said.

Olson's amendment was an attempt to ease the concerns of social conservatives who object to any expansion of gambling.

It also forces the tribes to think about making financial contributions to the states. Under the current compacts, the state doesn't get any money from Native American casinos.

It may also be an olive branch to Gov. Pawlenty. He has said he's opposed to the Racino proposal, but expressed interest in reopening the compacts. Officials representing the tribes object to the amendment.

"It's a typical gun-to-the-head approach," said John McCarthy, the executive director of the the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association. He says he's not sure how much money the tribes would give the state if they agreed to the amendment, but says it would be in excess of $100 million.

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Image The bill's beneficiary

McCarthy says he hasn't talked to tribal leadership about the amendment, but doesn't think they will react warmly to it.

"These are governments and this is not the way that you coerce governments. This is not the way that you ask people to the table, by offering an amendment by saying 'this is what you'll do,'" he said.

McCarthy says the tribes would be willing to negotiate with Pawlenty if he asks them.

Other lawmakers objected to the bill, citing social problems related to gambling. They say the problems could include more crime and gambling addiction.

Rep. Dan Larson, DFL-Bloomington, says he's concerned that state lawmakers will open a pandora's box if the Racino bill becomes law.

"We will never, if we start down this past, quench our thirst with the dollars that come from gambling. It'll never be enough. We'll start with $100 million, but next year when we face another billion-dollar deficit, we'll look for the easy way out and the reality is this will be the easy way out," Larson said.

Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, says House Republicans are trying to fool the public by finding additional revenue without raising taxes. Gov. Pawlenty and House Republicans have vowed that they'll balance the state's $4.2 billion deficit without raising taxes.

"It finally puts to rest the debate on whether we can balance the state's budget without additional revenues. Everyone in this Capitol has said 'no we can't.' With this bill, it proves it," Juhnke said.

Canterbury Park Executive Director Randy Sampson says he's pleased that the House passed the bill. He says he would have preferred that the tribe amendment not be put on it. But he says he doesn't think all the tribes with gambling operations will agree to the amendment.

Sampson says it will be more difficult to convince the DFL-controlled Senate to pass the bill.

"It will be tough. We don't have the leadership support that we had in the House, but we think it will be very close there too," Sampson said.

Senate DFLers say they think the Racino proposal is a bad way to balance the budget. They say their budget plan has more reliable sources of revenue.

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