“Racino no solution,” says Winona Daily News

31 March 2011

The March 26 edition of the Winona Daily News carried a strongly worded editorial opposing proposed racino legislation in Minnesota. Here’s the full text of the column:

Our view: ‘Racino’ idea no solution, potential problem

Call it a racino to the bottom.

On Monday, legislators introduced the ballyhooed “racino” legislation that would permit slot machines at the two racetracks.

Some legislators say it’s a $125 million fix toward the state’s deficit.

Yet, GOP lawmakers don’t want to send the money to fix the deficit problem. It would go toward a special account that would create jobs and be the province of the state’s economic development agency.

For so many reasons, this legislation is deeply flawed and should be killed soon.

First, this legislation does nothing to help the state’s massive financial problems. Any new revenue needs to go to patching the gaping budget hole that exists in St. Paul.

Secondly, how the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development would use the funds to create jobs is about as haphazard and unknown as it could be. There are no plans, guidelines and policies. And, if the “racino” money is anything like the JOBZ accounting, as soon as the money is collected, accountability will stop.

Finally, the estimate of $125 million is fanciful. It’s only estimated, and there could be a lot less since slot machine gaming is already legal and established. The novelty has to be limited since slot machines are available elsewhere in the state.

Let’s be clear: While we don’t oppose gambling, balancing budgets on the back of gaming revenue is certainly ethically suspect. In other words, we should think long and hard about making up deficits or funding new programs on the backs of those who may have a gaming addiction.

It’s not that we should prohibit or ban gaming because that only drives it underground. But adding more gaming, especially in fragile economic times is questionable.

Finally, we’d suggest that Minnesota strongly consider the effects of gaming creep.

One need look no further than a few states away to Montana, or even South Dakota where electronic gaming has been made legal.

In the Treasure State of Montana, there is hardly a cafe, restaurant or gas station that doesn’t have a few slot machines clanging, buzzing or flashing.

They are a nuisance and eyesore, yet now well-established source of state revenue.

It’s become like crack cocaine for the Legislature. Now hooked, it can’t hardly quit.

And that’s the danger of expanded gaming. Right now, those who want to gamble have to make a serious effort to visit the casinos.

That’s fine.

But make it too easy and gaming becomes a community scourge. Make it too easy and it becomes a stream of revenue St. Paul will be forever addicted to.

This legislation solves a problem that simply doesn’t exist.

Lawmakers would do well to listen to John McCarthy of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association. “Once this door is open, it doesn’t close,” he told the Star Tribune.

That’s not just a man protecting his own interests, that’s a man who understands the business of casinos.

They are experts.

Minnesota needs to leave this door closed.

By Darrell Ehrlick, editor, on behalf of the Winona Daily News editorial board, which also includes publisher Rusty Cunningham and deputy editor Jerome Christenson.