Blackjack for a better Minneapolis

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January 13, 2003 // UPDATED 4:11 pm - April 27, 2007
By: Terrell Brown
Terrell Brown

Slot machines Downtown could solve local and state budget woes

Does Minneapolis desire to be a "convention city"?

Does Minneapolis want a thriving entertainment district or to be a theater center?

Should Minneapolis have a casino, or casinos, to draw people to a convention city and its entertainment district?

The answer to all three of these questions is a resounding "yes!"

The city has invested somewhere in the area of a billion dollars on the Minneapolis Convention Center, with its recent addition and supporting infrastructure.

As a city we have also invested heavily in theater. Taxpayers own three Hennepin Avenue theatres that host theatrical, musical and other events: the State, the Orpheum and Pantages. Plus, in what has been described as both historic preservation and boondoggle extraordinaire, we moved the Shubert Theatre to its current home on 5th and Hennepin. There it sits, hoping that a patron of the New Central Library will come up with a workable renovation plan.

Casinos draw people. Millions of people and some of the largest conventions in the world are drawn to Las Vegas every year. Many of those people travel from their Minneapolis homes. In fact, Minneapolis is a major source of Vegas visitors.

The Nevadans, the Vegasonians, do an interesting thing. They tax the money gambled in the state's casinos. Drop a quarter in a slot machine or place a bet at a blackjack table and a piece of it goes to the State of Nevada. Tourists cover much of the cost of Nevada government. Even Iowa collects millions of dollars each year in taxes on slot machines located in its racetrack and riverboat casinos.

Sure, you can place a wager in Minnesota. You can buy pull-tabs, a wide variety of lottery tickets, bet on a horse race, drop money in a slot machine in rural casinos, play blackjack or poker and, if you aren't worried about the long arm of the law, even place a bet on a sporting event. What did I leave out?

Clearly the lack of a Minneapolis casino isn't due to an attempt to keep gambling out of Minnesota. The problem is that most of the gambling in the state is like groceries and clothing: tax-free.

The tax is important. Both Minneapolis and Minnesota want to spend more money than they expect to have coming into their checking accounts. Both need to develop new sources of revenue. A single slot machine producing a dollar an hour in taxes for 15 hours each day provides over $5,000 per year. A thousand slot machines provide over $5 million each year. That's before we open the blackjack tables and sports betting windows.

Detroit's three casinos paid over $60 million in wagering taxes in 2000.

At a time when government is looking for more sources of money, what would you rather tax, a new pair of shoes or a pull on a slot machine or draw of the cards?

The owners of Canterbury Park have offered the State of Minnesota 40 percent of the profits if they are allowed to put in slot machines. Slots at Canterbury Park do nothing to develop Minneapolis convention business. With that offer, you know there's money in the casino business. Look at all the new construction in Las Vegas; you know there's money in the casino business.

Let's put the casino where the people are. Why go to Laughlin when Vegas offers more?

Where do we put our first casino? Let's use the vacant space in City Center and Block E. Both City Center and Block E have adjoining hotels to house casino guests, and both are connected by skyway to allow easy movement between casinos.

Where do we expand? Let's start with the surface parking lots along both Hennepin and 1st Avenues. Then we round the corner and build on Washington. If the Vikings move to Anoka, we'll use the Metrodome.

What else does this industry provide? Jobs. Well-paying jobs at that. First, construction jobs, then jobs in the casino and various supporting services.

Tourism is a major Minnesota industry. People come here to hunt, fish, lay out on the beach, they even come here to shop. We have much to offer. We can only benefit when we offer more.

Terrell Brown lives in Loring Park and works Downtown. He can be reached at terrell@terrellbrown.org. Letters to the editor may be sent to dbrauer@skywaynews.net.