The merits of a “racino”

Since its inception in 1985, Canterbury Park has been clamoring for slot machines. Time and time again bills designed to place slot machines and other gambling devices in Canterbury Park have been either voted down or vetoed. But as the state faces a huge budget deficit, this session’s bill calling for a “racino” – a joint race horse/gambling venture – should be seriously considered.

The proposal would allow 2,000 slot machines into Canterbury Park. The Minnesota State Lottery would control the revenue generated by the slot machines; in exchange the state would allow Canterbury Park to build a 3,000-seat show horse arena, a hotel and a conference center.

With a racino come economic benefits to the state. The proposal would expand job opportunities in nearby Shakopee. It also would boost Minnesota’s equine and tourism industries. According to estimates, Canterbury’s expansion would eventually raise millions in state-controlled revenue.

Opponents argue that the number of gambling addiction victims would increase. Gov. Tim Pawlenty is among the wary. However, Minnesota already has numerous gambling institutions and the addition of one racino would not significantly add to the state’s gambling problem. Opponents claim gambling disproportionately affects the poor, but hard data backing this claim remains elusive. Hundreds of independent studies have resulted in conflicting data. In terms of gambling and morality, Minnesota can never go back. Gambling was first legalized in the state in 1988 and arguments to put the gambling genie back in the bottle are, in today’s climate, counterproductive.

However, as in all areas of government, Minnesota should show restraint in sponsoring gambling. Minnesota’s budget should not become a function of gambling revenues. Minnesota politicians must view any gambling money as a supplement, not a reliable funding source. But concerns aside, like lottery ticket sales, a racino at Canterbury Park promises to be another safe bet.