Senate committee shoots down racino bill

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

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

But on an 8 – 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, said 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.

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 as require voter approval for racino.

He envisioned referendums being held in Anoka and Scott counties.

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

Ortman, for one, thought Thompson’s amendment was a good one.

“I think it will pass,” she 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.