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Racino proposal would add $125 million to revenues

If the Minnesota Legislature approves a racino it could receive $125 million in revenue each year, according to former state Sen. Dick Day.

In a pitch to the Park Rapids Rotary last week, he said he is talking to organizations across the state to garner support for a state-operated racino - or racetrack casino.

He has proposed a racino several times since 1997 when he was in the Senate and it has been rejected each time. It was consistently ignored by legislators who opposed gambling and by those who didn't want to infringe on casinos operated by American Indians.

A racino would permit slot machines to be located at the Canterbury Park horse racing track in Shakopee. Day works fulltime as president of an organization called Racino Now.

"What we're trying to do is get the $125 million into the hands of the state from the operations of a racino," said Day, who said he is "not even a gambler" and said he respects people who oppose gambling.

Day said the measure is gaining support in the House and Senate from legislators on both sides of the aisle and he's encouraged that Gov. Mark Dayton said he would support a racino if the revenue went to education. That's what a number of other states are doing where racinos are popular gambling venues.

There's been talk of using racino money to help fund a new stadium for the Vikings football team, but Day said he doubts a stadium will be a high-priority issue this year.

Day, a lifelong Republican and former Senate minority leader, said the Republican Party has not been supportive of a racino and has an anti-gambling position in the party platform.

He attributes opposition, in part, to heavy lobbying done by American Indian tribes who currently operate 18 casinos in Minnesota that have a $1.2 billion net profit, yet do not pay corporate taxes or property taxes.

Putting slot machines at Canterbury Downs would create some competition and fairness, said Day. Neither of those provisions is prohibited in the original agreement that allowed Indian gambling in the state.

"In Minnesota, who doesn't love competition," asked Day, adding that taking money from people who "voluntarily give it up" is an attractive option to taxing people.

While some don't want gambling to expand in Minnesota, Day said it already has. In 1997 there were 7,000 slot machines as part of the Indian gambling operations. Now there are 29,000 slot machines. "There's a huge amount of money in this thing."

He said he hopes legislators are "level headed enough" to approve a racino this year to help off-set budget cuts with new revenue. "We're out of money in the state. We're in a little bit of dire straights," said Day.

He said there's "no way" the legislature can balance the budget without new money. "And we do have one of the ways to give the state some money. If they don't want to take the money, then there's nothing I can do about it."

Day suggests a five-part plan to make a racino work in Minnesota:

n The citizens of Minnesota must convince their legislators that the racino issue is vitally important to the state and the citizens of Minnesota. Politics as usual cannot continue to derail the racino bill. He hopes citizens will write to their elected officials about how racino legislation will create jobs and generate revenue.

n Once the legislature passes a racino bill, video and slot machines will be added to Canterbury Park and Running Aces Harness Park where gambling is already regulated by the state under the Minnesota Racing Commission.

n Canterbury Park and Running Aces will build additional gaming facilities at their current locations, leading to hundreds of construction jobs and creating hundreds more jobs once the facilities are up and running.

n The state of Minnesota will receive estimated revenues of $250 million from these facilities every budget cycle (two years) to benefit education, health care, road construction, stadiums or other state projects.

n The racing industry will receive purse supplements designed to grow Minnesota's racing, breeding and agricultural industries. This will create jobs throughout the entire state as horse operations expand in every county of the state.

Day said there's a 50-50 chance it will be approved this year.

Carolyn Lange, who writes for Forum Communications Co., contributed to this report.