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Despite steady rain, a large crowd rallies outside the Capitol on Tuesday in St. Paul to protest a possible expansion of gambling beyond Indian reservations. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, David Joles)

Minnesota Legislature: Casino supporters rally against expanding gambling

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ST. PAUL - Richard Hermanson has depended on Prairie Edge Casino Resort to make a living for 10 years and said he is worried legislative proposals to expand gambling could affect his future.

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"I can't afford to get another job," the 47-year-old disabled worker said as an estimated 3,000 American Indian tribal members and casino workers rallied at the Capitol.

The tribes "earned and deserve" casinos, said Hermanson, a Boyd resident who works at the casino in nearby Granite Falls.

The Upper Sioux Community's casino was one of many examples speakers used in an hourlong rally against bills that would allow Minnesota's two horse-racing tracks to add casinos and to allow bars to install gambling devices.

"Rural jobs count, too," the crowd chanted, emphasizing most casinos are in rural areas and the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association says that so-called "racinos" at race tracks would draw gamblers to the tracks in the Twin Cities area.

More than 40,000 people work at Indian casinos.

President Victoria Winfrey of the Prairie Island Indian Community said her group's Treasure Island Casino could lose 300 jobs if racinos were approved.

The Indian community government and casino resort employ 1,700, she said, the area's larger employer.

While tribal groups oppose any new gambling, including allowing video gambling machines in bars, they most strongly oppose racino proposals.

"I don't think that would have the same type of effect," Winfrey said of gambling in bars.

Winfrey said although the economy is improving, and along with it casino revenue, business remains slower than before the recession.

The Prairie Island leader and others planned to testify during a Tuesday committing hearing on racinos, but that meeting was postponed because the bill author was sick.

A racino would bring the state $250 million every two years, supporters say.

Backers of the gambling-in-bars bill said they do not intend to compete with casinos. The bill would allow electronic bingo and pull tabs for charities. It also would allow video slot machines run by the state lottery.

The bar proposal would provide $629 million a year to the state, $113 million to environmental programs and $229 million to charities, backers say.

Rural bar owners say they have been forced to lay off workers in the past few years, and cut hours they are open, but the gambling bill would help them.

Clark Lingbeek, owner of Windom's Phat Pheasant Pub, said small-town bars face smaller crowds due to several issues, including a state law banning indoor smoking.

Lingbeek and Bob Pallansch, who owns Double R Bar and Grill in Grey Eagle, said bars are losing young customers who are not interested in old-fashioned paper pull tabs now offered for charitable gambling. Pull tab purchases are down more than 35 percent in recent years.

"They are into electronics now," Pallansch said, adding that he hopes electronic gambling machines would attract a younger clientele.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he doesn't like expanding gambling in bars.

"That's a huge expansion," the governor said. "I think alcohol and gambling is a bad combination."

Dayton would consider approving a racino. However, if approved, he said, most revenue should go to education, and he is open to a Republican plan to send some money to business development.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com

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