Support for racino proposal not clear
With less than four weeks left in the Minnesota legislative session, it remains unclear whether a racino proposal has the support needed to pass.
The proposal to allow video slot machines at Canterbury Park and Running Aces Harness Park is expected to be heard in committee soon.
Unlike most issues at the Capitol, the debate over gambling does not fall along party lines. Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, is a co-sponsor of the bill and a major supporter. Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, bashed the proposal during a rally Tuesday.
Views are also mixed among Republicans. Rep. Rich Murray, R-Albert Lea, serves on the House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Committee, which is expected to vote on the proposal. He said he is not sure how he will vote.
"Racino right now to me is a tough vote because I can make a case for both sides of it," Murray said.
He said he has heard from people in the agriculture community that back racinos because they say it will provide an economic boost. But he said he does not like the idea of expanding gambling because he is concerned how it can affect families.
So does he think there are enough votes on the committee to pass the bill at this point?
"It's really close," he said.
Red Wing Republican Rep. Tim Kelly said he is against expanding gambling and is concerned about how the racino proposal would affect Treasure Island Resort and Casino, which is run by the Prairie Island Indian Community.
"Treasure Island is our number one employer in the county," Kelly said. He said it might make more sense to try to get the Indian tribes to share some of their profits with the state.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday he would consider a racino proposal but that it must meet certain standards.
"I am not interested in expanding gambling to benefit private operators. They will certainly derive some benefit from it or they wouldn't be doing it, but I want most of, the vast majority of, the proceeds from any expansion of gambling to go to job creation and education," he said.
A former lawmaker said he believes a racino proposal could end up being part of an end-of-session budget deal. Former Republican Sen. Dick Day, a lobbyist for Racino Now, said his organizations hope to get the bill passed through some committee, but they never expected it would follow the traditional route to the governor's office. He said they want it to be available to be brought up at the last minute. One possibility is to use proceeds from racinos to help pay for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.
He added, "Somewhere along the line there is going to need to be a couple million dollars for all of us to go home."