It looks as if sitting down together actually does get something positive accomplished. Minnesota’s racetracks did not get racino legislation passed this legislative session, but unlike past years when this was all that could be said at the end of the session, both the tracks and Tribes could be walking away with something.
The State Senate passed a bill last night that was amended to include the “Minnesota Horseracing Purse Enhancement Act”. The particulars of the bill are:
· An increase in the maximum number of gaming/poker tables the racetrack’s card club can operate from 50 to 80.
· The maximum bet at each table has increased from $60 to $100;
· The cardrooms can now offer “house banked games” whereby players play against the house rather than paying a small commission and then play against each other;
· Removes the limitation on the number of poker tournaments that can be conducted;
· Allow Native American casinos in Minnesota to simulcast horse racing.
It is estimated that approximate $2.5 million dollars would be earned for the purse account from these changes. Another upside is that racing fans outside the metropolitan areas of Minneapolis-St. Paul will finally be able to wager on racing without traveling up to six hours to get to the racetrack. Minnesota law does not permit residents to wager on-line so in the past if you have not been able to get to the track, you weren’t able to place a bet. Now there may be up to 18 off track betting locations throughout the state including a potentially lucrative location in downtown Duluth.
The legislation still has to pass the House and be signed by the governor with the House scheduled to take action on Monday. There are also some logistical hurdles that need to be addressed as well: where will 30 extra tables be installed and the details of simulcasting signals and wager, to name a couple. Additionally, while horsemen will be anxious for the purse enhancements to be effective as soon as possible, it will be hard to award any purse increases without the revenue flowing particularly in the wake of the state shutdown last season that cost the track millions of dollars in revenue and, by extension, dollars flowing to the 2012 purse account.
This isn’t the best that the tracks could have hoped for but there are several positives: something is always better than nothing. And talking is always better than fighting. If the casinos and racetracks could find a way to work together to their mutual benefit both industries win instead of just the lawyers and lobbyists. A lot can be said for sitting down and talking and I hope that this isn’t a lesson lost on the politicians in St. Paul – and in Washington, D.C. (though you know it is).
In the end, assuming about a 40% rise in daily purses when the money is fully vested, if you will, horsemen could be looking at purses on par with – if not slightly ahead of – Tampa Bay Downs. It makes racing at Canterbury a very attractive option again and gives the industry a reason for hope. Crowd levels have risen over the past several seasons, setting average daily attendance records year over year: Minnesotans obviously love their racing. Now it has a new life. The slide has stopped and hopefully a reversal can begin. Fans across the state will have access to the product now, many for the first time within a short drive from their homes. There are open channels of communication between once bitter rivals that hopefully can lead to bigger and better things.
Now let’s get this passed, implemented and get on with racing!