Racinos, casinos and in bars, oh my

Expanded gambling in Minnesota is no cause for alarm.

by Mike Munzenrider

For anyone who has ever walked to the convenience store for their bag of Fritos and an orange juice, this situation is typical. You get stuck at the counter behind that hot-handed person holding a nickel, furiously playing scratch-offs. While debate continues about expanding gambling, most realize itâÄôs already all around us.
Currently, Minnesota is saddled with a $6.2 billion deficit and must do everything it can to chip away at that problem. Expanding gambling further is a means to the end of reducing the deficit. Legal gambling has been a historically contentious issue in Minnesota, but lawmakers must step up and make an expansion happen.
Minnesota began as a state hostile to gambling. Its original 1858 constitution states, âÄúThe legislature shall never authorize any lottery or the sale of lottery tickets.âÄù Minnesota did not just frown on the lottery; there was no legal form of gambling in the state until 1945, when the first law legalizing bingo was passed.
Other laws quickly changed and gambling rules became less restrictive. By the early 1990s, Minnesota had 14 Indian-operated casinos and a state-sponsored lottery system.
Once Gov. Mark Dayton âÄî who appears open to expanded gambling âÄî took over the governorâÄôs mansion last fall, gambling supporters saw an opportunity.
A bill to build a casino at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was introduced in the House in January. Also in January a bill to expand charitable gaming in MinnesotaâÄôs 3,200 bars and restaurants was introduced in both the House and the Senate.
Further, proponents say legislation to allow slot machines at Canterbury Park and Running Aces horse tracks will be introduced by the end of the month.
Establishing these so-called âÄúracinosâÄù has been an issue for some time now, and it should be noted that both tracks already offer poker and blackjack along with horse betting.
According to a Minnesota Lottery estimate cited by proponents of expanded gambling at the tracks, the racinos would pay $125 million to the state annually. Those advocating for more gambling in bars and restaurants say, also citing estimates from the state, that Minnesota could gain $600 million per year from such gambling.
Opposition to expanded gambling has found bipartisan support in the form of Citizens Against Gambling Expansion. The group says expanded gambling will further social ills.
Without a doubt, gambling addiction is a problem. But as a telling comment posted on the Star Tribune website said, âÄúYou do not expand gambling by opening another casino. You do not increase alcoholism by opening another liquor store.âÄù While imperfect, itâÄôs true.
Tribal gambling interests will also oppose expanded gambling in the state. However, an increase in opportunities to bet shouldnâÄôt be seen as fewer slices in the gambling pie. Instead, the pie is getting bigger.
Math whizzes and laymen alike will say a possible $725 million extra in the state coffers is a drop in the bucket against a $6.2 billion deficit.
They are absolutely correct, but as this columnist knows, he counts on writing his weekly screed for this paper to contribute to his budget, not to complete it. Balancing a budget involves many revenue streams, and every possible way of keeping things in the black should be used.
Expanding revenue through sin taxes may not be the perfect way to balance the Minnesota budget, but weâÄôre already stuck in line behind that instant winner.
I bet expanded gambling will help our stateâÄôs budget woes. Double or nothing.