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Minn. Gambling Proposal Makes Annual Debut

By Holly Wagner, WCCO-TV and Pat Kessler, WCCO-TV

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO/AP) -- Two Republican lawmakers said Monday that Minnesota could raise money for job creation efforts by allowing horse racing tracks to install video slot machines.

The push to expand casino-style gambling has been regularly stymied at the Capitol. Supporters are counting on a different reception this year, in part because of the state's severe budget problems.

Sen. David Senjem of Rochester and Rep. Bob Gunther of Fairmont are sponsoring the plan. But the debate usually cuts across party lines.

A news release promoting the bill says it would authorize the Minnesota Lottery to operate slot machines at existing horse tracks in Shakopee and Columbus. The proposal calls for 400 video gaming machines at Canterbury Park and Running Aces Harness Park.

Democratic Sen. Dan Sparks, of Austin, authored a similar bill last year and said he is in support of the current legislation.

"Racino legislation is an excellent example of legislation that both sides of the aisle should be able to agree on," Sparks said.

The bill would also establish the Minnesota Future Fund -- a revenue fund that would be used to provide money for new and existing businesses, to grow jobs and expand the economy.

"So as we have employers in Minnesota who are thinking about expanding,  if we have employers in Minnesota who are thinking about leaving Minnesota -- we're going to be able to intervene, and we are going to be able to keep that business or grow that new business," Senjem said.

Gunther said this bill would also help keep businesses in Minnesota and out of Wisconsin, a tough competitor due to several job initiatives.

"There's a banker in La Crosse that calls me up about every other month and tells me all the industries he gained from Minnesota. I want to call him back and we're going to be able to do that with the Minnesota Future Fund," he said.

Lawmakers say expanding gambling at the two horse tracks would raise about $250 million over two years.

Gov. Mark Dayton said Monday he wants to see more details before pledging support or opposition. Dayton has previously said he wanted any money from expanded gambling to be spent on education programs, but he said Monday that job creation might be important enough to direct the money there instead.

However, he has been cool to suggestions that money aid stadium construction.

The authors of the bill say a Vikings stadium is "not on the menu." They say they haven't talked with the Vikings about how the bill could potentially help to fund a new stadium but also say it wouldn't be prohibited.

Senjem and Gunther say the main priority of the bill is to create jobs and help revive the horse racing industry.

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association does not support this idea, and neither do Christian conservatives who are opposed on moral grounds.

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association released a statement Monday morning saying this bill will not create new jobs, it will simply shift jobs from rural casinos to the metro racinos. They claim most of the profits will go to the racetracks' wealthy owners, and not to the state.

"Once they open this door, it's going to really decimate tribal gaming," said John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, which represents nine of Minnesota's 11 Indian tribes. "The economies of a lot of these communities that are around these tribal gaming operations have done very well."

Earlier this year, state GOP chairman Tony Sutton wrote a letter to every Republican legislator urging opposition to expanded gambling.

A spokesman for Running Aces, one of the two proposed sites, said the bill introduced Monday reflects the priorities at Canterbury Park more than those of the track in Columbus, which is north of the Twin Cities near Interstate 35. John Derus, a Running Aces board member, said his organization supports the effort in principle but has significant issues with the bill in its current form.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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