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‘Gambling Day’ gives protesters and advocates of expanded gaming a chance to make their case

This session’s ‘Gambling Day’ at the Capitol brought hundreds of protesters and a few advocates forward as the Legislature considers allowing expanded gaming at racetracks and bars in Minnesota.
Despite pouring rain, a crowd on the Capitol steps fo

This session’s ‘Gambling Day’ at the Capitol brought hundreds of protesters and a few advocates forward as the Legislature considers allowing expanded gaming at racetracks and bars in Minnesota.

Despite pouring rain, a crowd on the Capitol steps fought for rural and tribal jobs while lawmakers once again took up a controversial topic that would give bar owners and metro racetracks a share of gaming currently controlled by Minnesota’s Indian tribes. The event was organized by the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association.

A House bill allowing most of the things sought by bar owners and Profit Minnesota – the group that represents them – got its first hearing today.

Bar and restaurant owners are calling for new ways to make ends meet as profits have plunged from the economic downturn and the statewide smoking ban.

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“The economic downturn has been tough on our industry,” said Dan O’Gara, president of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association.

Profit Minnesota, which has supported the legislation in recent sessions, once again made its case for the benefits it sees for Minnesota’s economy: a wide distribution of new revenue for Minnesota’s hurting bar and restaurant owners.

The association’s bill, sponsored by Sen. Michelle Fischbach and Rep. Ron Shimanski, would allow bars and restaurants to offer bingo games more frequently, introduce electronic pull tab games and install video slot machines.

Advocates say the move could raise $630 million in new state revenues, although it’s almost impossible that revenue will be factored into ongoing budget negotiations if the bills are passed. It could also mean an extra $230 million in charitable gaming, which has taken a significant hit since 2001.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who seemed hesitant to support expanded gaming when the bills were introduced, maintained the same distance today.

“I’m not going to close the door on that,” Dayton said of allowing slot machines in horse racetracks.

A committee slated to take up the House racino bill the same day was canceled. Advocates say allowing slot machines in Canterbury Park and Running Aces horse-racing facilities could raise up to $250 million in new state revenue.

Dayton, however, seemed resolute in his opposition to expanding gambling in bars and restaurants.

“I think that alcohol and gambling really are a bad combination,” he said.

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Both bills have Republican chief authors, and DFL lawmakers were quick to oppose any expanded gambling in Minnesota.

“This will just take gambling money and shuffle it around the state,” said Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, calling the legislation an “unwise use of our very limited time.”

But Shimanski, a Republican author of the bill that would allow more gambling in bars and restaurants, painted the measure as a way to create jobs for outstate Minnesotans.

“I chose to sponsor this bill … because it will stimulate the rural economies,” he said.