Senate bill pushing racino falls in committee

T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter

Senate Republicans amended a racino bill on Monday, March 19 in committee into a shape more to their liking.

But on an 8 to 5 vote, the Senate State Government Innovation and Veterans Committee ultimately rejected Senate Majority Leader David Senjem’s racino bill.

The legislation, which would place thousands of slot machines at Canterbury Park in Shakopee and Running Aces Harness Park in Columbus, is depicted by advocates as a lifeline to the Minnesota horse industry.

“There’s no reason Minnesota can’t do it,” said Equine Development Coalition of Minnesota President Jeff Hilger of revitalizing the horse industry as done elsewhere through racino.

Hilger, who runs a horse ranch in Stillwater, explained that thoroughbred horse breeders like himself must invest $30,000 in a horse before it ever runs its first race.

Former Hennepin County Commissioner John Derus, a Running Aces board member, argued that racino was not an expansion of gambling.

“That genie is out of the bottle,” he said.

But Indian gaming officials and other critics spoke out against the racino initiative as robbing jobs from Greater Minnesota and otherwise expanding a predatory form of taxation.

Focus Changed

Still, the focus of the bill changed in committee.

Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, amended the legislation to direct state racino revenues into an account to provide scholarships for high-achieving college students.

“This is a profound amendment,” said Senjem, who agreed to it though the provision removed language in the bill directing racino revenues to payback the K-12 school funding shift.

Ortman styled her amendment a “game changer for the our workforce.”

Additionally, Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, amended the bill to require voter approval for racino. He envisioned referendums being held in Anoka and Scott counties.

“It’s adding an additional layer of decision making,” Thompson said.

Ortman, for one, thought Thompson’s amendment was a good one. “I think it will pass,” she said of voters in Scott County approving racino for Canterbury Park.

But the amended racino bill could not pass the Senate committee.

Racino legislation has yet to move in the House.

The idea of a referendum is nothing new to the two state lawmakers who represent Columbus. State Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, and Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, have insisted that voters in Columbus and Forest Lake approve of the racino proposal at local referendums before racino could be added to the  track in Columbus.