Minnesota Casino and Card Room Gaming
In 1984, the ownership or possession of video gaming machines to play games of chance (excluding poker) was legalized, but not for gambling on them. In 1985, a bill which would have allowed a casino in Ely was rejected. In 1990, the legislature made electronic gaming terminals illegal.
In 1999, the legislature passed a bill (HF1825, Chapter 206) that permitted card clubs to offer unbanked card games at licensed racetrack facilities. Unbanked card games are played against other players and not against the house. Track revenue would come not from a house percentage, as in blackjack, but from table rental and a percentage of bets. Card clubs were limited to 50 tables for playing live card games, with the exception of one tournament each year of up to 14 days, and limited betting to $15 on an opening bet and $30 on raises. Proponents of the legislation maintained that with the rejection of offtrack betting by voters and no legislative action to place VLTs at racetracks, the horse industry needed another option to augment purses. Canterbury Downs, the only racetrack at the time, opened its card club in April 2000. By 2003, the card club was contributing over one-fourth of the total revenue to the Minnesota breeder's fund.
In the early 2000s, several bills were proposed to legalize VLTs. One bill provided for county-licensed casinos, and another wanted to establish a state casino at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Even though these bills were unsuccessful, it became clear that the idea of state-operated or state-licensed gaming competition for tribal casinos was gaining momentum.
In the 2003-2004 session, to close a large budget gap without imposing new taxes, the House added $100 million in revenue from state-operated VLTs at Canterbury Park to its proposed budget. The proposal, introduced by Rep. Mark Buesgens, intended for the state lottery to contract with Canterbury Park to place up to 2,000 VLT machines in a facility to be built by the track. The racino would have been the major component of a $90 million expansion of the track, which would also have included a 250-room hotel, a 3,000-seat equestrian center and polo grounds. Supporters of the bill estimated annual state revenue of $75 million, with live horse racing purses getting 7.5% of VLT machine gross profit, less than the percentage of the card club rake and pari-mutuel takeouts. Opponents criticized the bill as an expansion of gambling. The bill passed the House on April 25, 2003, but did not get very far in the Senate and was removed from the proposed budget discussions.
In the mid-2000s, three major casino proposals were floated in the legislature, with none achieving much success. One was a suggested joint ownership venture with an Indian tribe that would share revenues, which did not make much headway. The second bill was a mega-casino proposed to be built at the Mall of America (MOA), which on its own attracted 38 million patrons each year. A $100 million one-time payment to the state would be paid by the winning bidder for the right to operate the casino and at least another $250 million annually. The bidding process was structured so that bidders would compete against each other, driving up the fees. The proposal did not garner much support, mainly due to the size of the project, which led to fears that the casino would eclipse the MOA's other features. And the projected earnings figure, $1 billion annually, was questioned by Prof. Bill Thompson of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, who considered the projection twice what he would expect for a midwestern venue. The third proposal, presented in 2004 by Rep. Tom Hackbarth, required a constitutional amendment to pass. The bill, if it had passed, would have allowed one privately owned and operated casino licensed for the greater metropolitan area. An even larger one-time payment than the one projected by the MOA plan, $450 million, was proposed for the amount that the winning applicant would pay for the license. The tax revenue generated from a 12% tax on gross gaming receipts would go into a fund dedicated to paying for one baseball and two football stadiums for 30 years. The bill was withdrawn.
In April 2007, construction started on the new racino at the North Metro Harness Race Track. The track installed a 24-hour card room. The grand opening took place on 11 April 2008, and it was renamed the Running Aces Harness Park.
Casino City considers table games at racetracks to be a casino and card room activity.
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