District 22 Republican Sen. Doug Magnus said state lawmakers are not discounting any option when it comes to balancing the budget, including two separate proposals to expand and enhance gambling in Minnesota.
Supporters of adding casino-style slots at horse racetracks in Shakopee and Columbus are pushing a racino bill that would authorize such expansion. The racino bill had been scheduled for a Tuesday hearing but was rescheduled. It's been an annual proposal at the Capitol that backers say would pump millions of dollars in revenue into the state's coffers, but one that's never found success despite multiple tries.
Also, Profit Minnesota, a coalition of more than 4,900 bars and restaurants, is pushing for legislation to let bars and restaurants across Minnesota increase charitable gambling options to video lottery terminals similar to slot machines, electronic bingo and electronic pull-tabs.
A Profit Minnesota spokesman told the Independent last week that enhanced gambling would bring in more than $600 million per year in revenue without raising taxes. Profit Minnesota also said its proposal would create and save thousands of jobs and vitalize local economies in every county as it would bolster support to local charitable organizations to the tune of $230 million per year.
"I think everyone wants to keep all options on the table," Magnus said. "A lot of this stuff will all be in play; there are so many things that I would classify as in play - racino's in play, the possible expansion of gambling in bars is in play. Several issues are in play for the end game. We need to sit down with both parties and come to an agreement for the ending."
The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, which represents most of the state's tribes opposed to state gambling expansion they say could divert a reliable source of revenue for tribes, organized a rally at the State Capitol on Tuesday. Other opponents of gambling legislation are concerned about relying on non-guaranteed revenue for the state or for specify projects such as a new stadium for the Vikings.
Still, Magnus said, the general population has an appetite for gambling.
"A significant amount of people like to gamble, so I think that's the premise you start with," said Magnus, who has supported racino legislation in the past. "They're going to gamble somewhere, somehow. The trickier part is, what role does the state have in this? I think to put gambling in as a source of funding for a certain project or entity is probably not the way to go."
District 20A Rep. Andrew Falk isn't a big fan of the state relying on gambling revenue either, no matter how that money would be funneled to the state. Falk said, if anything, the state could use gambling proceeds to fund specific areas and projects the state would like to enhance and expand on.
"I'm not overly fond of the current racino legislation or that from Profit Minnesota," Falk, DFL-Murdock, said. "I'm not a huge proponent of either of those proposals. And I do have some aversion to using gambling proceeds to fund the general fund programs because gambling proceeds vary from year to year."
Falk understands the optimism racino and expanded charitable gambling proponents have when it comes to getting their bills passed but isn't sure where the required number of votes from the Legislature would come from.
"Some (legislators) are opposed to it, whether it's on religious grounds, some are opposed because they have different values - it runs the full spectrum," he said. "I don't know how they would get the 64 House votes and 38 Senate votes they would need. There's such a diverse number of viewpoints."
Magnus said the biggest problem the state is facing besides the immediate $5 billion deficit is unsustainable growth in spending and said gaming revenues should not be used to support continued growth in spending. He added that modernized gambling in bars and restaurants does have its pros and cons. Some establishments in small towns are fighting to stay open in a tough economy and new gambling options, he said, might be part of a solution to help them out.
"If putting more gaming into a bar keeps it open, that's good," he said. "These are tough times and some places are struggling; the economy's poor and other venues are attracting people's money."