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.
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.