For more than 10 years I have tried to get the Minnesota Legislature to authorize a racino at Canterbury Park. Democrats have opposed my plan; they believe the Native American monopoly on gambling is justifiable because the billions in casino profits are payback for wrongs we committed in the past. Last year, however, Democrats expanded gambling themselves with a harness track and card room in Anoka County, and this year they voted for a bill to permit simulcasting at the track. That makes me hopeful that my bill will get a better reception than it has in the past.
It is important for Minnesotans to understand why I believe the bargain we have made with the tribes, which guarantees them exclusive rights to operate casinos, does not reflect our strongly felt notion of fairness.
“Domestic dependent nations” is the label that the U.S. Supreme Court has assigned to the relationship of Native American tribes with the U.S. government and the state of Minnesota. “Dependent” is the word that catches my attention. The tribes are dependent on a lot of state services that we all benefit from, but they alone are exempt from paying for those services.
Amenities from taxes
Businesses in Minnesota pay an 8 percent corporate income tax, as well as a statewide property tax. They do so, probably not enthusiastically but at least willingly, to ensure that they receive services that make doing business in our state possible. These include a safe and efficient network of roads to deliver goods and customers; a superior system of K-12 and higher education for a skilled and knowledgeable workforce; clean, abundant, and dependable supplies of water; a reliable supply of electricity; a fair legal and regulatory climate. Taxes paid to state government also support many other amenities that contribute to our superior quality of life, enhance our sense of community, and make us a sought-after place to live and visit.
These are services that the tribal casino businesses also benefit from, free of charge.
The compacts the state of Minnesota signed with the tribes – which do not ask them to share their revenue as do all other states that have tribal gaming – are valid into perpetuity unless both parties agree to renegotiate. That isn’t going to change any time soon. The tribes have no reason to open up the compacts as long as they are profiting so handsomely under the current arrangement.
Twenty states have non-Indian casinos that pay hundreds of millions of dollars into state coffers. Our neighbor to the south, Iowa, gets 6.6 percent of its general-fund budget from its casinos. South Dakota gets 13.2 percent. One state-sponsored casino, a racino at Canterbury Park, would level the playing field and generate $100 million or more every year in payments to the state of Minnesota. It would help us pay our bills, as all our good corporate citizens do, acknowledging their dependent relationship with our state.
Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, first introduced legislation to authorize a casino at Canterbury Park in 1997 to raise money for a Twins stadium. He has introduced similar legislation, for various purposes, every year since without success. This year he proposes to fill part of the budget gap with racino proceeds.