Published April 30 2012
Horse race gambling deal clears Minnesota HouseST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers gave final approval Monday to late-surfacing legislation that allows more poker tables and higher betting limits at horse racing tracks and gives tribal casinos access to racing simulcasts.
The House voted 97-34 to send the bill to Gov. Mark Dayton only two days after it emerged and passed the state Senate by a lopsided margin. Dayton has not declared a position and needs time to study the bill, a spokesman said.
The proposal represents a rare agreement, benefiting horse track owners and the American Indian tribes that operate casinos around the state. But it may run into legal resistance, as previous attempts to allow off-track betting in Minnesota have been struck down.
The measure would allow live racing at Shakopee and Columbus to be simulcast for wagering purposes at casinos around the state. The two horse tracks currently have card rooms, and the bill would raise the number of limits on card tables from 50 to 80 per site and increase the maximum bet from $60 to $100. On blackjack and other games, players would wager against the house instead of a less-lucrative setup known as “unbanked” games, where players compete against one another and the house takes a cut from total wagers.
The tribes and track owners have a history of being at odds. The tracks, primarily Canterbury Park in Shakopee, have made a hard but unsuccessful push for slot machines that the tribal casinos have exclusively. The bill's backers said proceeds from the expansion would be put back into horse racing purses, which in turn would boost the state's equine industry.
“It's somewhat akin to bringing the Green Bay Packers and the Vikings together to do something positive,” said Rep. Joe Atkins, a Democrat from Inver Grove Heights.
Rep. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, downplayed the significance of the change, telling members “what you're voting for is allow an existing business to expand its business.”
But some lawmakers cried foul, saying the measure didn't have a single committee hearing and left many questions about who would reap what benefits.
It caught gambling opponents off-guard, too.
“We see it as an expansion of gambling by allowing more tables, by allowing higher betting, more games,” said Jack Meeks, chairman of Citizens Against Gambling Expansion. “I don't know the legalities of it.”
In 1992, the Minnesota Supreme Court invalidated a state law permitting off-track betting on horse races, saying any bets on races must be done at the site where they are run. In 1994, Minnesota voters narrowly defeated a constitutional amendment that would have expressly allowed off-track betting.
On Monday, Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers sidestepped a question about whether the simulcasting should be classified as off-track betting.
Under the bill, the telecasts and wagering would be done at tribal casinos, which the state has less power to regulate. But it's not clear if any tribes would take advantage of simulcast wagering.
John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, which represents nine of Minnesota's 11 Indian tribes, said there is no association-wide position nor has there been much discussion. He said some tribes might pass on the offer because they don't want to enter into new gambling compacts with the state to provide revenue sharing.