Fighting the Gambling Expansion Wars
by John McCarthy
n the May 2010 issue of
magazine, I wroteabout the ongoing ﬁght over a proposed racino at Canter-bury Park, the only thoroughbred racetrack in Minnesota. A Canterburyracinowithmorethan2,000slotmachinesandacardclub could put a serious dent in the revenues of the Shakopee MdewakantonSiouxCommunity,whoseMysticLakeCasinois justamiledowntheroadfromthetrack.The2010proposalalsoincluded authorization for slots at Running Aces, a harnesstrack in the north metro area of the Twin Cities. That facility would have been a serious threat to the tribal casinos operatedby the Mille Lacs and Fond du Lac Bands of Ojibwe. Although Running Aces was excised from the racinoproposalattheﬁnalhour,andthebillultimatelydefeated,bothtracks are back again this year seeking racino legislation. Butthat’s not all. An explosion of expansion bills has made 2011one of the toughest years MIGA tribes have faced since thecompacts were signed in 1989. There are at least half a dozen additional proposals forgambling expansion, ranging from slot machines in licensedliquor establishments and a casino at Minneapolis-St. PaulInternationalAirport,toacasinoindowntownMinneapolisandelectronicpulltabsandbingoinbars,bowlingalleysandrestau-rants. Everybody wants a piece of the gambling pie.One driving force behind these expansion initiatives is thestate’s miserable ﬁnancial condition. The State of Minnesotafaces a budget deﬁcit of about $6 billion. The Republican-controlled legislature has stated in no uncertain terms itsrefusal to consider any tax increases, even for the wealthiest Minnesotans. So lawmakers are looking for easier, lesspolitically dangerous ways to raise new revenues.Unfortunately, racinos just don’t generate enough revenueto make a dent in most state deﬁcits. In Minnesota, even therosiestracinorevenueprojectionswillgeneratelessthan$150million a year, barely enough to cover two percent of thestate’s budget shortfall. That leads us to the other driving force behind theseexpansion efforts. It just plain drives some people crazy thatIndian tribes can do something most non-Indians can’t do –operatecasinos.Theyarguethattheyneeda“levelplayingﬁeld”to compete with tribal gaming.