House considers state casinos

Jessica Thompson

The Mall of America could contain Minnesota’s first state-operated casino if some state legislators have their way.

Despite protests from Minnesota American Indian tribes, state legislators are considering proposals to generate funding for state operations through the gambling industry.

Rep. Dave Bishop, R-Rochester, said in light of the estimated $1.9 billion state revenue shortfall announced Tuesday, raising taxes is the only comparable way to make up the difference.

“This is the greatest opportunity available in the next session for additional revenue Ö in a time of fiscal crisis,” Bishop said at a meeting of the House Governmental Operations and Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

Bishop introduced legislation Wednesday calling for an entirely state-owned and operated casino in the metropolitan area.

George Anderson, director of the Minnesota Lottery, said the casino could yield approximately $2 million annually.

Anderson said the location of the casino is flexible, but he said the Mall of America would be “the most lucrative site on the planet Earth.”

But many opponents of the bill say the legislation would open the door for widespread state-sponsored gambling, which would hurt tribal governments.

“We know damn well it won’t be just one casino. It’ll be one, then two, then who knows how many,” said John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association.

“This marks the end of what we believe to be a great relationship between tribal governments and rural economies,” he said.

The bill incited heated debate and skepticism from some legislators as well.

“The revenue we’d bring in would barely scratch the surface,” said Rep. Steve Dehler, R-St. Joseph. “Do you really Ö believe people are going to be jumping for joy at the right to gamble more if they don’t even want to buy a Hershey’s bar right now?”

Bishop’s bill is one of several proposals to generate revenue through casinos.

At the meeting, Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, introduced a bill to authorize a privately operated casino, which would be taxed by the state. The added state revenue would go toward highway
construction and educational development, Hackbarth said.

At a Dec. 12 hearing, Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, is scheduled to present a bill to open a casino within the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The legislative session does not reconvene until Jan. 29, but McCarthy said MIGA is already preparing for the battle.

“We’re greatly opposed to any and all of these bills Ö once that genie is let out of the bottle, you can’t put it back in,” he said.