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Gambling Battle Looming in Minnesota

7 March 2011 by admin

minnesotaIn the U.S. state of Minnesota, a battle on gambling expansion is looming that could shift the balance of power that has existed for 22 years. At stake is a monopoly held by local tribes, their political loyalties and the budget of the Gopher State.

Like in every other state in America, lawmakers in Minnesota are looking for ways to close a budget deficit. In November, Republicans swept through the state legislature in a historic sweep that was a microcosm of the U.S. congressional elections. The new GOP-led legislature vows to slash spending and cut costs, but seeking additional revenue, many think it is now time to look to gambling expansion. New governor Mark Dayton, a Democrat, agrees and has called for a state-run casino in the Twin Cities area.

Currently the only casino gambling allowed in Minnesota is on tribal land. In 1989, the state signed a gambling compact with seven tribes, allowing them to open casinos. With the exception of the state lottery, approved by voters in 1988, and pull-tab charitable gambling, legalized in 1981, all other forms of gambling in the state have been banned since 1947.

MIGA LOGOThe tribal leadership has long been a major political force in the state as major contributors to the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. The DFL has responded by looking out for the interests of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association and have been quick to strike down any attempts at gambling expansion. With the state needing more money now, though, several pieces of gambling-related legislation could be introduced.

Proponents of gambling expansion have introduced a bill that would allow bars and restaurants to operate electronic gambling machines. To qualify for the expansion, those businesses must already operate charitable gambling. The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association supports the legislation, saying that it would create jobs and generate $600 million in tax revenue for Minnesota.

Another bill that is likely to be introduced later this month would allow two horse tracks in the Twin Cities area to add slot machines, making them racinos. Proponents of that plan say that it would generate $125 million in tax revenue each year. Plans to add slots to race tracks have always been heavily opposed by the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, though, who say that it wouldn’t actually bring in more money because the gambling market is already saturated by the 18 tribal casinos. Of course, it is those tribal casinos who stand to lose business from the competition of racinos.

Representative Tom Hackbarth believes that if gambling expansion is going to happen in Minnesota, “it has to be this year.” The Republican has sponsored many gambling bills throughout his tenure and believes that there should be private competition for the tribal casinos. “There’s nothing that says they deserve to have a monopoly on gambling in the state of Minnesota.”

The Republican Party is split on the issue, with some siding with the likes of Hackbarth, who want more competition and extra revenue while others align with the powerful Citizens Against Gambling Expansion (CAGE). Still, with Republican control of the legislature and a governor who supports expansion, this could be the best chance Minnesota has to see a challenge to the tribal gambling monopoly that has always been protected by Democrats. The tribes, of course, are trying to sway the pro-gambling Republicans as well. John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association says that if the Republicans are able to kill gambling expansion legislation, the tribes would consider extending more support to the GOP.

Tom Bakk, the Senate Minority Leader, says that he only sees the gambling expansion happening if the lawmakers are unable to close the budget gap through spending cuts alone. Former Republican senator Dick Day, now president of Racino Now, gives gambling legislation a “50-50” chance.

One Response to “Gambling Battle Looming in Minnesota”

  1. Bob M. says:

    This is a bad time to expand gambling.Fond Du Lac Reservations Black Bear Casino revenue dropped from a net Profit of $42 million during 2003 to $10 million in 2010.