Gaming may be last resort for baseball in Minnesota

Dec 18, 2001 2:17 AM


The status of the Minnesota Twins could rest on whether two private casinos in the Twin Cities want to purchase the American League franchise.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment for the plan to proceed. If successful, the proposal could add up to $70 million a year to the state’s strained budget.

Both the Twins and the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings have experienced problems with playing at the Metrodome and would each like to have a downtown venue.

The plan, advanced by James Belisle, president of Multi Gaming Management Inc and sponsored by Rep. Tony Kielkucki, a Republican, would  see investors paying $450 million up front for the right to establish Minnesota’s first gambling casinos off Indian reservations.

Once established, the casinos would contribute 10 percent of their gross receipts to the stadiums. The plan ran into expected opposition from tribal representatives and legislators.

“If $450 million for stadiums is good,” said Rep. Mike Osskopp, R-Lake City, “do I hear $600 million for the children?”

The plan, combined with $150 million each from the Twins and Vikings, could build two state-of-the-art stadiums without a dime kicked in by taxpayers,” Belisle said.

With casino buildings included, the plan could spur up to $1 billion in new construction and 8,000 new jobs, according to Belisle.

The Twins are one of four teams rumored to be among the two projected to be dismantled by Major League Baseball prior to the start of the 2002 season due to financial troubles. The others include the Montreal Expos, Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Hope for Kentucky

At least one major Kentucky politician supports riverboat gambling as a means to supplement the income of the state’s horse industry.

Lt. Gov. Steve Henry told the Louisville Courier Journal that a fleet of Kentucky riverboats could compete for gaming dollars going to other states and still support horse racing. However, Gov. Paul Patton is not on the same page.

“The governor has never had a discussion with the lieutenant governor on the issue,” said Patton’s press secretary Rusty Cheuvront.

Henry, who may one day be a candidate for governor, said that while he opposes widespread gambling, “I have a hard time explaining to the citizens along the Ohio River why we should not be competing.”

Turfway Park president Bob Elliston believes more riverboat gambling would threaten the horse industry.

“To add more riverboats would be more competition,” he said. “That would be something I would find very disturbing. I would find that very threatening for the horse industry.”

However, Churchill Downs president Alex Waldrop agreed with Henry that money was going across that (Ohio) river that could be going to Kentucky horse racing.

Cuts worry Tiguas

The West Texas city of El Paso could lose nearly 2,200 jobs and $55 million in personal income if the Speaking Rock Casino is forced to shut down under a court order, according to the state comptroller.

The Tiguas, owners of Speaking Rock, are appealing a federal court ruling requiring them to close the casino, which reportedly generates an annual income of about $60 million. Appeals to hear oral arguments is set for Jan. 9 in New Orleans.

The Tribe contends that the Texas state lottery, which voters improved in 1991, opened the door for them to offer casino gambling because both involved chance, consideration and prizes

Sacramento waiting

A decision will be made in 30 days as to whether a major Nevada-style casino will be built outside Sacramento.

“It’s on my desk right now,” said Wayne Smith, a representative of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior, regarding the paperwork that would place 49 acres outside Roseville, Calif., into trust for the United Auburn Indian Community.

The tribe, along with Stations Casinos of Las Vegas, announced a partnership two years ago in which a $100 million casino would be built near I-80 and a major shopping mall in a suburb of the state capital.

The casino, which could begin construction in February if approved, could take 12-to-18 months to complete. It would contain from 1,000-to-2,000 slot machines. The project has the potential to post $250 million a year in gaming revenues.

The Eldorado Hotel and Casino in Reno, the closest gaming venue to the area, posted $113.6 million in revenue last year.

Oneida eye Catskills

The Oneida Tribe from Wisconsin is interested in securing a  casino deal in the Catskill  Mountains, according to New York Sen. Charles Schumer.

However, Tribal Chairman Gerald L. Danforth denied an Associated Press reporter quoting him as saying that the interest is connected to a swap for land they own in New York.

“There is nothing in Chairman Danforth’s letter that talks about a swap,” said Bobbi Webster, the tribe’s  communications director.

Danforth, head of the 15,000-member tribe, stressed that the two issues were concurrent, but not connected.

“We are interested in the Catskills, we are interested in settling our land claim and we are interested in economic development,” said Danforth, whose tribe operates a highly profitable casino near Green Bay, Wisc.

Oneida has a 250,000-acre land claim in central New York and maintains that the state’s plan for an additional six casinos would provide the means to resolve the claim.