Racino advocates see an opportunity to make their move — and help budget negotiations

Canterbury employees and racino supporters are angry that their private sector jobs were compromised during Minnesota's government shutdown.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Canterbury employees and racino supporters are angry that their private sector jobs were compromised during Minnesota’s government shutdown.

Are racinos at the metro area’s two racetracks a way out of Minnesota’s two-week budget shutdown?

A throng of horseracing supporters and some GOP lawmakers think so, and they gathered Wednesday at Canterbury Park in Shakopee to make their case.

Two legislators who represent the area — Sen. Claire Robling of Jordan and Rep. Michael Beard of Shakopee — support allowing slot machines at horseracing tracks at Canterbury Park and north metro’s Running Aces Harness Park in Columbus.

They’re even more interested in ending Minnesota’s government shutdown so that the 1,000 furloughed Canterbury employees can return to work.

Help for budget and for horse industry
Proponents, who have been working unsuccessfully for years to pass such a measure, see racinos as at least the first step toward restarting budget talks. Former Sen. Dick Day’s group, RacinoNOW — represented at the event by a sea of T-shirts — says the measure could put $250 million in Minnesota’s coffers every two years.

Freshman Rep. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, called racinos the “building blocks to a final solution” over Minnesota’s budget dispute.

 “It’s going to have to be part of the discussion,” Beard added. “It’s a big step toward a solution.”

Gov. Mark Dayton has had at least four recent gambling-related meetings and seems amenable to the idea of expanding slots into horse tracks. He is, however, reluctant to “book” economically fickle gambling revenue as a way to pay for integral state programs.

Further, there’s no consensus about where racino proceeds would go.

Woodard suggested paying back previous K-12 education state payment shifts with the revenue.

Beard, though, said he’d like to keep all possibilities open till the last moment to give the legislation the best chance of passing.

Supporters sport RacinoNOW t-shirts.
Supporters sport RacinoNOW t-shirts.

Robling, going against many of her fellow caucus members, said she would support new revenue in addition to racino proceeds in order to broker a deal and end the shutdown.

The GOP leadership has been more tight-lipped about what place they think expanded gambling can have in budget negotiations.

“I think our leadership … is supportive of racino,” Robling said, but added members of her caucus have wildly differing opinions about expanded gambling.

Robling ready to advocate for racinos
“I’m willing to provide that leadership,” said Robling, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, when asked how such a measure could pass.

Racino legislation – which has been getting more buzz recently – went nowhere this session. The best that advocates could do was offer two “informational hearings” – because they didn’t have the votes to pass the proposal through committee – before the issue fizzled.

Now, it appears they hope the budget impasse could provide an opportunity by giving Dayton new revenue and pleasing their constituents with a huge influx of new business.

“You’re standing in the middle of the district I represent and here are 1,000 jobs gone immediately,” Beard said of the shutdown, which he says could have disastrous effects on Minnesota’s $1 billion equine industry.

He and Robling sent the governor and GOP leaders a letter Wednesday urging them to pass a temporary “lights on” state funding bill, intervene in the courts or come to a budget agreement, as well as pass racino legislation, to get horse tracks back up and running.

Canterbury and Running Aces are shuttered because the state agency that regulates the gaming establishments, the Minnesota Racing Commission, is not operating.

That puts Holly Kantarevic in an extremely difficult place.

As a single mom putting herself through school to work in corrections, grooming horses at Canterbury provides Kantarevic with a paycheck and a place to live. Now she’s forced to make a choice: move in with her mom or follow her horse trainer to a new state.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. That scares me,” Kantarevic said, holding a toddler on her left arm. “Do I move back in with my mom or go with my trainer?”

Kantarevic said nobody where she lives – in “dorms” on the Canterbury grounds – talks anymore at night because they’re so afraid of what’s to come. Catherine Usher, who worked in the accounting department, said it was “creepy” to return to the empty park on an errand.

“It just sucks because I’ve never seen anything like this,” Kantarevic said.

The economic impact goes beyond the 1,000 employees laid off at Canterbury and the 700 furloughed at Running Aces. More than 1,600 people in related businesses – such as trainers, veterinarians, farmers and jockeys — have been affected, as well.

Robling and Beard said they wouldn’t put racino legislation up for a floor vote until they were sure they had the support to pass the measure. It would have to pass during a special session called by Dayton to finish up Minnesota’s nine remaining budget bills.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Lauren Maker on 07/14/2011 - 11:05 am.

    Texas tried several years ago to bolster their funding shortfall by using new lottery proceeds to fund public education. It was a fiasco–not enough proceeds, education underfunded and in debt–lose-lose-lose scenario.
    Seems like the GOP has already gambled with education funding–betting the economy would improve enough so we could pay the $1.9 billion of deferred education spending from last budget cycle in this budget cycle. Well, it’s didn’t and we can’t. So they are talking about doing it again.
    And what has this done to the commercial credit market, when school districts have to go out and borrow against money they are supposed to receive but haven’t–and apparently won’t?
    And aren’t schools getting an actual budget cut, since they have to pay interest on the money they are borrowing?
    Time to bet on a sure thing–more revenue to pay for the real increase in costs.

  2. Submitted by Claire Lundgren on 07/14/2011 - 11:32 am.

    Lottery proceeds are not the same. Horse racing is a noble and interactive sport that is a part of our US history. What the difference is in this case is that in Minnesota the entire industry is dependent on the track as its only venue. By industry, I’m referring to breeding farms, vets, shoers, feed and bedding suppliers, truck and trailer dealers, transport companies, etc. If these are forced to leave the state, and easily could because of better situations in other state with racinos, the State of Minnesota will lose a huge amount ( est. $2,000,000,000 in annual economic activity per year) of revenue as well as thousands of jobs. 1,000 were lost at the Canterbury frontside with the shutdown and that doesn’t include the aproximately 1300 jobs on the backside. It’s time to pass the Racino Bill and save jobs in Minnesota.

  3. Submitted by jody rooney on 07/14/2011 - 01:03 pm.

    Horse racing would be a noble sport if they started racing at four years old. When they start racing at 2 and training at 18 months it isn’t such a great sport. Training and racing animals that have not finished developing is not particularly good for the animal.

    The fact that it needs to be subsidized is pretty clear that it is also a failing business.

    Gambling is a bad way to fund government. It is a bad way to fund tribal governments and a bad way to fund state governments.

    Every business in the state generates economic activity and impact. Does Canterbury generate more activity than another business? These numbers make it bigger than fishing – probably not. The number reported here is card club and racing combined and that is still high.

    Since none of the four accepted economic impact models call out racing as a separate industry category I would be curious to see the data on which those numbers are based. The American Horse Council Data is not sufficiently rigorous to be replicable so that would not be a reliable base and that data was from higher cost states.

    Racinos are a bad idea but that is to be expect from folks who believe training and racing immature horses is a good idea.

  4. Submitted by Claire Lundgren on 07/14/2011 - 02:28 pm.

    Jody Rooney: I HAVE to respond to your comments because it full of wrong assumptions and accusations concerning the racing industry.

    The Economic Impact study referred to was done by the University of Minnesota. It does not include cardroom or simulcasting revenues. It is strictly covering the activities of the equine industry in Minnesota. Minnesota has the second largest horse population in the US and should not be simply dismissed. It is a valuable source of economic activity and is spread statewide and heavily impacts the agricultural economy.

    Horses are not forced to run at two. The are protected from themselves as racehorses in training because they love to run. SOme do it better than others. If you were to do a survey, I would stake everything on horses getting hurt in greater numbers when allowed to run free than being in a controlled situations when in race training. In the pasture they run through fences, step in holes, and generally get into trouble as much as any human child. Race training controls their environment and their activities. They love running and need to be led slowly through the levels of training. Go to a track and see how abused you think these animals are.

    Canterbury by itself does not generate the numbers of the industry. But the racing barns are dependent on this venue because it is the only place to run in Minnesota. The same situation for Running Aces. The tracks are not asking for a subsidy so close your wallet. They only need legislation to enable them to run on an even playing field with other states. WIthout the industry- which is not subsidized and gets no special considerations- horses will leave the state. Because the tracks must run a live meet of over 50 race days per year to stay open, the tracks are dependent on the horses to hold a live meet. The jobs at the track number over 1000 and the numbers on the backside are another 1300. I can’t give an accurate number on how many farms support the numbers on the backside buyt is substantial. The last time I read it, there were over 33,000 quarter horses in the state.

    ANy money brought in by racing is not going to be a total solution to the budget deficit but it will bet least a quarter $Billion more than we had and there is no investment. Can you find any option for funding that gives that kind of return?

  5. Submitted by Claire Lundgren on 07/14/2011 - 03:35 pm.

    Sorry, somewhere I deleted my point. I wanted to say that the Money from horseracing and the Racino will not solve the entire deficit problem. But it will add at least a quarter billion dollars that we didn’t have before. With no investment that’s a pretty good return.

  6. Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 07/15/2011 - 12:18 am.

    Horse’s bones are not close to being fully developed at two years of age and it is criminal to support an industry that races them because greed is the “sport of kings.”

  7. Submitted by Tom w on 07/15/2011 - 06:30 pm.

    I dont claim to be informed of the economic impact of racing or the knowledge of the effect of racing on horses. I’m just a regular fan of horses and racing and have been enjoying the culture of Canterbury Park for the past couple of years now. I must say that I have never seen a horse abused or mistreated. Matter of fact I see nothing but care and love for the animals. I am particularly disturbed by the comments of Jody and C.A. Because they couldn’t be father from the truth.

    I see Racino as a winwin. Not only do you supplement the budget, but you also help a struggling industry that I think gets a bad name thanks to Jody and C.A.

  8. Submitted by Claire Lundgren on 07/18/2011 - 03:01 pm.

    CA Arneson: You are partly right. The legs of two year olds are not fully grown. But at two, they will run themselves into the ground if left to their own devices in the pasture. They just love to run. Thus, there are far more injuries off the track than under controlled circumstances. A conscientous trainer will x-ray the knees of a two year old before racing to make sure the knees are closed. And for the most part, they are lightly raced and generally in the later part of the year. Because their legs mature a lot during the two year old year, most of the babies are timed to be foaled as early as possible in the new year. That way they get a little more time. They are raced as soon as possible because teh futurity races have the biggest purses. One of the horseman at the track kept a record of what is invested in a horse before you even know if it will run. From breeding to the track the average cost for a thoroughbred was $30,000. That’s a pretty big investment for an owner or trainer to throw away with poor care.

  9. Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 07/19/2011 - 11:16 am.

    The other side of the “pretty big investment” coin is owners and trainers want to see a return as quickly as possible.

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