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Gambling deal puts racino proposals on hold

Agreement between horse racetracks and Indian tribes could help rescue Minnesota’s flagging horse industry.

Rep. Joe Hoppe speaks in favor of his Racino proposal Monday.

Racino proposals are likely on hold for the foreseeable future at the Capitol, but an unlikely agreement between horse racetracks and Indian tribes could help rescue Minnesota’s flagging horse industry.

The state House and Senate have passed a bill that would allow for augmented gambling at Minnesota’s two horse racetracks and permit simulcasting of the races at Indian-run casinos.

The House, which passed the bill overwhelmingly Monday, was the last vote needed to send the legislation to Gov. Mark Dayton. Under the bill’s language, racetracks would be allowed 80 card tables, up from 50. It would also allow the amount bet to increase from $60 to $100 and would implement traditional Blackjack, which is more lucrative than the games played now.

Canterbury Park and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux, who run the Mystic Lake casino, leaked the deal Friday, and the Senate passed the proposal Saturday. It marks a rare occasion where racetrack owners and the tribes have been able to reach a friendly agreement, and it also shows a deceleration on the part of the track owners in their quest for racino legislation.

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“I think it puts [racino] on the backburner for a little while,” said GOP Rep. Tim Kelly, a supporter of the legislation. “I think the discussion is still a good one, but the way I see it going forward now is … that maybe we have an opportunity where these two sides come together and say, ‘How does this racino actually work?’”

Rep. Joe Hoppe, chairman of the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee, introduced the bill Monday as an amendment to a different bill, which worried some lawmakers.

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said it was “very, very troubling” that the bill didn’t go through the committee hearing process, and said too much legislation was being considered too quickly as the session wraps up.

“Talk about a slippery slope,” she said. “I just think that’s really straining things too far.”

But supporters of the measure – many of whom also want racino – said the enhanced gambling would be a boon to Minnesota’s horseracing industry by increasing purse sizes at Canterbury Park and Running Aces Harness Park. Larger prizes attract more racing outfits and contribute to Minnesota’s horse-breeding and agricultural industries.

The number of thoroughbred horses in Minnesota has drastically reduced over time, and the purses at the state’s racetracks are significantly smaller than those in the Midwest.

“I think this is something we can do to help the horse industry,” said Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck.

Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci wrote in an email saying the governor needs time to review the bill before making a decision on whether to sign it, but Hoppe and Kelly are confident it’ll pass muster.

“My understanding is he will be favorably disposed towards this legislation,” Hoppe said.