Monday, June 20, 2005

Is the racino is a better bet for Minnesota?

I spent the last part of Father's Day (after church, buying supplies at Dundee Nursery, and reviving our backyard water garden, of course; who besides Margaret knew there was a plant called "water lettuce?") enjoying a classic day at Canterbury Park, along with over 10,000 of my fellow horse racing fans.

Two of the sports-related proposals on the table at the Legislature are the public subsidy for a new Twins stadium (discussed ad nauseam herein) and the "racino" at Canterbury Park. This morning while on the way to work, I got to thinking how the racino proposal highlights the shortcomings of the Twins stadium proposal:
  • The racino would provide a one-time fee of $100 million to be paid to the state's general fund. The Twins would not directly pay anything to the state's general fund.

  • The racino would share its revenue annually with the state, approximately $100 million per year. The Twins say that revenue sharing à la the Fair Stadium Funding Act would be a deal-breaker.

  • The racino would be privately financed and would not require any state bonding or operating subsidies. The Twins are asking Hennepin County to subsidize the stadium construction to the tune of $353 million with a sales tax, with the balance of the expected $1.1 billion in revenue to be used by the county for other programs such as youth sports and libraries. This could be called "The Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Tax Go Down" approach. Sure, a bigger Hennepin County government is just what we need, right?

  • The racino is backed by the entire Scott County legislative delegation, endorsed by both the city of Shakopee and Scott County, and (according to Canterbury Park's polling) is supported by 74% of Scott County residents. The Twins stadium tax would likely fail in a county-wide referendum, and was given only conditional support by the Minneapolis City Council.

  • The racino will never need taxpayer financing for a $100+ million roof. I can already hear the cries about the Twins leaving town because of an "inadequate" stadium after a few rainouts.

  • The racino would almost by definition boost Minnesota's agricultural economy, with the increased demand for everything from horse trailers, alfalfa, veterinary services, to hospitality for tourism and conventions. The racino would fund a large expansion not only of thoroughbred racing, but also of other equestrian sports from dressage to rodeo. The failure of sports stadiums to generate significant economic benefit is well-documented by independent studies referenced at the Senate District 42 Republicans web site. Even Twins President Jerry Bell said, "I don't think the economic argument turns it one way or another, so why go there? If there are side benefits, great. If not, so what?"

  • You can still smoke in Scott County, so there are smoking sections at Canterbury Park and presumably at a racino. There would be No Smoking in the Twins Stadium, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO SMOKING! I can't stand cigarette smoke, but I do support the right of adults to engage in legal activity without government interference. Besides, we need some way to boost revenues from the new cigarette tax -- er, fee.
Still, the 800-pound gorillas in the room are the moral and social costs of gambling. A lot of my friends across the political spectrum are agin' it, including David Strom, Jack Meeks, Tony Sutton, and Mary Kiffmeyer. The Republican Party of Minnesota's platform opposes state-sponsored gambling. Some churches see gambling as more of a menace to society than abortion. Most politicians won't speak in favor of a racino, other than Scott County legislators, Governor Pawlenty, and Senate Minority Leader Dick Day (R-Owatonna) and Speaker of the House Rep. Steve Sviggum (R-Kenyon).

Support for the game of baseball is nearly universal, although the business of baseball needs reform before public funding for a stadium would survive a referendum (even then the vote wouldn't be a "sure bet").

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