State view: Irony ripe in expansion of gambling claims for racinosDire reports of “expansion of gambling” fill statewide news columns and airwaves. Don’t be fooled. When reports characterize combined race track-casinos (racinos) as expansion, think again.
By: Gary Larson, Duluth News Tribune
Dire reports of “expansion of gambling” fill statewide news columns and airwaves. Don’t be fooled. When reports characterize combined race track-casinos (racinos) as expansion, think again.
The fact is the public already gambles at state-licensed race tracks. If anything, racinos spell competition for the state’s 18 Indian casinos and only them.
So who’s behind labeling racinos as an “expansion” of gambling? Well, that would be your state tribal casino interests protecting what they consider inviolable turf. Only Indian casinos here in Minnesota can run slot gaming. Expansion? They’re past masters at it. They’ve excelled at expansion since the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.
Wealthy tribes go all out to protect a system that showers them with fabulous, mostly untaxed wealth. It enables them to build hotels and to add needed infrastructure to their reservations. In a Minneapolis suburb, slot gaming, the most popular form of casino-style gambling, magically transforms a tiny tribe’s members into millionaires, one and all. (Nice work, being a monopolist, if you can get it.)
To ensure their cash cow is protected, tribes engage in pay-to-play politics like most Big Business. Guess what? Casino-rich tribes here give almost exclusively to the DFL. It is, after all, the party that first enabled their casinos’ exclusivity at slots gaming in 1989 under Gov. Rudy Perpich’s administration.
Today DFLers receive more than 95 percent of moneyed tribes’ political contributions. That is a matter of record, not made much of by ho-hum news media. Why not? Politics, it is clear, preserves the monopoly. The object is to snuff out like competition.
The same was true in 1995 when local tribes joined Wisconsin counterparts to shoot down a proposed dog-track racino near St. Paul, in nearby Hudson, Wis., at a failing (now closed) dog track. Not even a proposed racino in an adjacent state could survive Big Money lobbying attacks of newly enfranchised tribes with casinos.
In the Hudson case, a few tribes shipped boatloads of dough to the Democrat National Committee to bury this would-be metro Twin Cities competition. Three impoverished Wisconsin Ojibwe tribes did not have the resources — read, money — to give gobs of money to support a casino of their own in Hudson. Thus was denied, sadly, their shot at the golden ring.
Examine the premise: Racinos expand gambling? News media hype the theme. But is it true? Maybe expansion in downtown Minneapolis or at the Mall of America, yes, or the latest fad, statewide electronic pull tabs, the most expansive of all. But not at racinos, where in 13 states racinos boost quality horse racing, support that state’s horse industry and add to the tax base.
Race tracks are Class 1 gambling establishments governed by state law. Taxes can be used in everything from sports stadia to educational programs. Heck, their tax-making proceeds could help build a stadium for the maybe-departing Vikings!
Claims that racinos “expand gambling” are stirred, ironically, by casino interests, which have expanded mightily — from zero to 18 casinos in 22 years — since 1989. In 1997, roughly 10,000 slot gaming devices enticed dollars from casino denizens in Minnesota. Today, more than 22,000 one-armed bandits do that business in the state. Expansion? That’s it, and in spades.
Do the casino operators have no sense of irony, none at all?
Racinos would net $125 million in taxes annually and create jobs. What’s not to like here? Given racinos’ popularity (more than
70 percent of Minnesotans approve), legislation to enable this tax-paying enterprise should be, under rules of common sense, a slam dunk.
Will legislators do the people’s will — well, 70 percent of the people’s — or continue politically to protect a moneyed big monopoly’s self-interest? Will preserving a casino monopoly drive the Vikings finally to Los Angeles? Stay tuned. Politics are at work in St. Paul.
Gary Larson is a former Duluthian and a retired newspaper and business magazine editor.