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Latest Canterbury casino plan promises more slots, profits
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An artist's rendering of a racino at Canterbury Park, which was first proposed several years ago. Proponents announced a new campaign Wednesday to get it approved in the Legislature. (Image courtesy of Canterbury Park)
The owners of Canterbury Park are raising the stakes in the gambling expansion debate at the Capitol. The horse track and card club in Shakopee Wednesday released a plan to add 3,000 slot machines and 40 blackjack tables to the existing facility. In exchange, the state would get a share of the profits.

St. Paul, Minn. — The racino proposal has been debated at the Capitol for the last nine years. It has significant support among union leaders, agricultural interests and those who want to see Minnesota receive some gambling revenue.

Canterbury Park President Randy Sampson says the proposal wouldn't expand gambling geographically, since the site already has an existing card club and horse racing.

"While meeting Minnesota's growing demand for gaming we can generate substantial revenues for the state, and create an economic development tool for Minnesota," says Sampson.

Sampson envisions a large development including the expanded gambling facility, along with hotel, convention, retail and arenas to the existing horse track. The state lottery would run the casino, helping get around a constitutional prohibition against private, nontribal casinos.

In addition to a one-time licensing fee of $100 million, Sampson says the operation would provide 35 percent of its annual revenues to the state. He says those revenues would start at $86 million in the first year and grow to $100 million a year by 2011. Another 10 percent of the revenues would go to the lottery to operate the slot machines.

Sampson says he's willing to pursue the racino as a stand-alone facility, or in combination with Gov. Pawlenty's casino plan.

That proposal would have the state partner with three northern tribes to build a metro area casino with 4,000 slot machines. The tribes would pay the state a one-time fee of $200 million and would provide $164 million annually, once the casino is fully operational. The governor says racino is an option he'd consider.

"We are open to either racino at Canterbury being a host site, or a merger of the two ideas," Pawlenty says.

Several lawmakers say Pawlenty would have to combine the racino with his plan if he wants legislative support. The House passed racino legislation in 2003, but the Senate voted it down.

Four Senate DFLers have signed on as co-authors to the racino bill this year, which has Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, predicting the bill's passage.

"One of the things that's happening in the Senate is that when the governor came forward with his proposal -- that has helped. That has ratcheted up people talking about extra revenue and casinos," says Day.

A lobbyist for Canterbury and other supporters say they need three more DFL votes to pass it in the Senate. DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson won't predict the bill's fate, but says he's growing concerned that the Legislature is being overrun by casino proposals.

"I don't know what to say anymore. They just keep bringing the proposals of gambling forward like it's easy money," says Johnson. "And right behind the easy money, I think of all of the pain and suffering and financial stress of individuals."

Others have those same fears. Brian Rusche with the Joint Legislative Religious Council says another casino would increase crime and gambling addiction. He also says lawmakers will look to allow other casinos to operate in the state whenever they're in a budget crunch.

"This is opening the door to something that will be unstoppable if we decide to take this leap," says Rusche.

An official representing the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, which represents tribes with more successful casino operations, did not return calls for this report. Those tribes have consistently opposed any expansion of gambling in Minnesota.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)