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Two hours of testimony and debate Wednesday in a state Senate committee on a proposal to raise state revenues by allowing slot machines at two Minnesota horse racing tracks ended without a vote.

Racino bill stalls in first Senate hearing

Sen. Dan Sparks

Sen. Dan Sparks

Two hours of testimony in a state Senate committee this evening on a proposal to raise state revenues by allowing slot machines at two Minnesota horse racing tracks ended without a vote.

The bill’s author Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, laid the so-called racino bill on the table before a vote could be taken.

The state Capitol hearing room was packed and televisions outside the hearing room broadcast the proceedings for those who couldn’t get a seat inside. At one point, Committee Chairwoman Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, admonished racino supporters for clapping after testimony.

The bill would allow slots at the Canterbury Island race track in Shakopee and the Running Aces track in Columbus. Supporters say the two racinos would bring the state $250 million per biennium.

The revenue would set up a fund for five things: agriculture and rural development, early childhood education, research and development for biotechnology, athletics such as a Minnesota Vikings stadium and the state’s general fund.

Supporters said the money would bring $25 million a year to pay debt service on a new Minnesota Vikings stadium and benefit Minnesota’s horse breeding industry.

Corey Merrifield, president of Save the Vikes, said that the state needs to benefit from the same sort of gambling activity that is done on the state’s Indian reservations.

“It is not new to the state. It is not a new facility. Therefore it is not an expansion,” Merrifield said.

Sparks said the racino is a way to help the state’s ailing general fund without raising taxes or fees.

However, Vickey Winfrey, president of the Prairie Island Indian Community, which operates the Treasure Island Resort and Casino near Red Wing, said lawmakers shouldn’t assume that gaming will help the state’s budget as advertised.

“With the racino bill, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. …Gaming is not immune from the economic downturn,” Winfrey said.

Tom Pritchard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, said that largest share of revenue generated from casinos comes from people who live in a 30-mile radius of the casino. He didn’t think the racino would any different.

“Mainly what this will do is take money away from main streets. It won’t bring new money into the state,” Pritchard said.

The role of tribal campaign contributions to Democrats has always been close to the surface of the racino debate through the years. At the hearing, a couple of pro-racino testifiers criticized the influence they say the tribes’ campaign contributions have on DFL legislative leaders. Moreover, supporters pointed to a recent KSTP/Survey USA poll that found 80 percent of Minnesotans support a racino. Former GOP Sen. Dick Day, who now lobbies in favor of the racino bill, said he expects citizens will bring pressure on legislators to pass a racino in the future.

“We’re organized. We’re grassroots. We’re web siting it. …We’re coming,” Day said.

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