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Taxpayers League and religious coalition unite against casinos
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Brian Rusche, executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, called the social harms of having the state authorize a new casino "large" and "looming." He said it would set a dangerous precedent that could lead to other casinos in the future. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Opposition to gambling has brought together a couple of unlikely partners. The Taxpayers League of Minnesota is joining forces with a coalition of religious organizations to speak out against proposals that would expand gambling. The groups say they intend to run radio advertisements and lobby the DFL-controlled Senate to stop the creation of a state-run casino in Minnesota.

St. Paul, Minn. — Officials with the Joint Religious Coalition say they intend to send out letters to 8,000 clergy and social justice advocates. The Taxpayers League of Minnesota says it also intends to contact its 15,000 activists and will also run more than $20,000 worth of radio ads like this one.

"How many times have you heard of a case of embezzlement caused by gambling, or check-kiting, or divorce or even child abuse? All in all, the lure of easy money from a state casino is just like all of the other promises of a big score. It's all a big lie," the ad says.

The Taxpayers League and Religious Coalition often find themselves on opposite sides of issues at the Capitol. The former pushes hard for less government spending. The latter often seeks more spending on social programs. On gambling, though, their interests coincide.

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Image Racino proposal

The Taxpayers League says more revenue from gambling just translates into more spending, and the Religious Coalition worries about the social impact. Both worry that the net effect is costly. The Religious Coalition's Brian Rusche says the costs include increased crime, suicide and bankruptcy filings.

"The policy discussion around the state Capitol this year has been devoid of this aspect. We have not spent time. We have not had good legislative hearings," says Rusche. "I have not heard public officials talk forthrightly about the costs associated with gambling. People around here are acting like it's free money. It clearly isn't."

Rusche says he's also concerned that allowing a state-run casino will set a bad precedent. He says every community will want a casino if the state allows one at Canterbury Park race track or at the Mall of America.

The groups say they're intensifying their lobbying efforts because DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson has said several members of his caucus are open to the idea. The Republican-controlled House has authorized slot machines at Canterbury Park in its budget balancing bill. Supporters say the state would receive $30 million this year from the project. It's projected to generate between $70 million and $100 million a year in the future.

Sen. Johnson says he doesn't believe there are enough votes to pass Racino or any other casino-related bill this year. But he says he expects the lobbying efforts to increase.

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Image Sen. Dick Day

"Senate Democrats remain committed to not balancing the state budget with any use of gambling proceeds ... based upon the volatility expressed with gambling proceeds," Johnson says.

Republican Minority Leader Dick Day of Owatonna says he needs six DFL votes to pass any gambling related legislation in the Senate. Day supports the Racino alternative because it would provide a significant amount of money to the state.

Day says he understands that gambling causes social problems, but points out there are plenty of gambling options in the state. He says the 18 casinos run by Native American bands have been expanding in the past decade. Day says he's frustrated that none of the gambling-related proceeds generated from those existing casinos are going to the state.

Day also questions the Taxpayers League's motivation, because the group has received money from Native American bands that oppose Racino. Day says he believes league officials aren't listening to their members.

"They have helped in a lot of areas, but this is one that they are totally wrong on. They are not helping taxpayers in the state of Minnesota," says Day.

Day says he hopes to continue to push the issue in the Senate. Senate DFL leaders say they intend to hold hearings on the bills. But none are scheduled, and the session is supposed to adjourn in less than three weeks.

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