Legislators revisit racino discussions

by T.W. Budig

ECM Capitol reporter

It was a good idea and still is, Rep. Tom Hackbarth said.

“We were very close last year,” Hackbarth said of lawmakers passing racino legislation.

At a State Capitol press conference on Monday, April 8, Hackbarth, a long-time racino backer, appeared with Running Aces Board Member John Derus to attempt rekindle the racino flame.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, at a State Capitol press conference on Monday, April 8, renewed his efforts at passing racino legislation. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, at a State Capitol press conference on Monday, April 8, renewed his efforts at passing racino legislation. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

“The time has come and gone and come again,” Derus said of placing video slot machines at Running Aces and potentially at Canterbury Park.

Hackbarth, a fierce critic of electronic pull-tab, described racino as a stable, non-tax dollar alternative for funding the Vikings stadium.

It’s estimated that having racino at Running Aces and Canterbury Park would snag in excess of $100 million per year for the state, said the Cedar Republican. Racino gambling dollars, Hackbarth argued, are much more stable than electronic pull-tabs. Racino has been used around the country, and has a track record of stability, he argued.

While saying having racino would bolster the bottom line for Running Aces, Derus insisted the harness track is doing well. It has weathered economic storms, he said.

Running Aces has a card room, harness track racing, and year-round simulcast wagering. But the track lost a major racino supporter when Canterbury Park and Mystic Lake Casino, Mdewakanton Sioux Community, struck a deal last year that reportedly has Canterbury Park dropping its efforts at obtaining racino.

Not that Running Aces and Canterbury Park always pulled in harness together. During one session, Canterbury Park advocates cut Running Aces out of their racino proposal.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton was unaware of the renewed pitch for racino.

“I don’t rule anything out at this point,” Dayton said on Monday. But he questioned whether the racino initiative had political horsepower. The governor said the recent political flap over electronic pull-tabs failing to approach revenue estimates in terms of helping to finance a new Vikings stadium has been “blown so far out of proportions.”

It’s doubtful whether Hackbarth’s racino bill will receive a committee hearing this session, but Hackbarth said there should be many opportunities on the House floor to amend the racino legislation onto another bill.

In a statement, Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, Senate bill sponsor, spoke of leveling the playing field between the two horse tracks.

“Minnesotans believe in fairness; this bill is a fair approach to a long-time issue,” Wiger said.

Hackbarth views racino legislation as common sense.

“It’s just a good idea,” he said.

 

Tim Budig can be reached at tim.budig@ecm-inc.com

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