Racino Races Back To Capitol

Lack of money may convince Minnesota legislators to back the long-proposed, often-failed racino concept this year, supporters of the concept say.

"We think there are some legs to this legislation," Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said Tuesday in announcing a bill to allow electronic slot machines at the state’s two horse-racing tracks.

Juhnke and Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said the estimated $125 million a year the racinos could bring the state would be evenly split five ways to help rural Minnesota, early-childhood programs, research and development programs, the state general fund and facilities such as a Vikings stadium.

On the first day of this year’s legislative session, Juhnke said he supported a broader bill that also would do things like expand pull tabs in bars. However, the bill he discussed Tuesday only would add racinos.

Dick Day, who resigned from the Senate earlier this year to lobby for racino, said he is certain fellow Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty would support racino. "I’ll bet my life on this; who would stand in the way of it?"

Pawlenty, however, often has said in recent weeks that he does not back the idea, after being slapped down when he backed a Twin Cities casino in previous years.

The state has a $1.2 billion deficit and the bill’s backers say racino can help fund programs that otherwise could be fiscally hurting.

"This bill has the potential to infuse millions of dollars into the state when we need it most," Sparks said.

Juhnke’s goal is to capture racino business from people who now are gambling via the Internet or otherwise outside of Minnesota. And Day said he is convinced that a racino would not violate state compacts with American Indians that give them exclusive rights to casinos.

Democrats, in particular, have been reluctant to offer racino bills, in part because they are seen to compete with Indian casinos. Tribes with the casinos are among the biggest donors to Democratic candidates.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, recently said he was not interested in a racino bill.

Juhnke and Sparks said they expect to receive committee hearings on the bill, but have not counted votes on the proposal.

The two tracks where racinos would be placed are Canterbury Park in Shakopee and Running Aces in Anoka.

While money could go to a Vikings stadium, the $25 million annually available to such uses would fall short of what is needed to pay interest on a loan to build a new facility that some say would cost $1 billion.

"We’re certainly not pushing this for a Vikings stadium," Juhnke said.

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said the racino plan and his proposal to allow video slot machines in bars, which he says could bring in $1 billion a year, are good companions.

"In order to get it to pass, you would have to put the two of them together," Tomassoni said.