Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton Signs Bill Expanding Poker At Racetrack Rooms

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In a demonstration of bipartisan agreement – and rapid movement of legislation through the appropriate bodies of government – Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota signed a bill on Friday to expand the poker rooms at the two thoroughbred horse tracks in the state.

The legislation had been proposed to settle a long-simmering battle between two gaming entities in the state. The two racetracks, Canterbury Park and Running Aces Harness Park, had been looking to turn themselves into full-fledged “racinos” that would include slot and table games along with their poker offerings. This was something that the Indian casino interests in the state vehemently protested, as the proposed expansion was viewed as something that would take away customers from their operations.

The Minnesota Legislature set about last weekend to attempt to end this standoff between the two interests. Last Saturday, the Minnesota Senate passed the bill, House File 2795, through by a 44-18 vote, while the House pushed it through by a 97-34 margin. With the signing of the bill by Gov. Dayton, both sides of the gaming issue seem to have won something for their efforts.

The two racetracks in the state will be able to expand their poker rooms from 50 to 80 tables and they will have unlimited tables for poker tournaments. In addition to this, the two racetracks can now offer higher betting limits (from $60 to $100) and other table games, such as blackjack, that players will now play against the house (previously, players had to play each other in those games in what were called “non-bank” games). The Indian casinos will now be able to offer simulcast betting on horse racing and other off-track betting (OTB) operations.

Randy Sampson, the president and Chief Executive Officer of Canterbury Park, discussed how their particular poker room would phase in the new laws. “Initially, we will increase the number of tables hosting live play from 50 to 60, the card room’s current capacity, to accommodate our customers during peak periods,” Sampson said in a statement following the bill’s passage. “Additional expansion, higher betting limits and expanded poker tournaments will be implemented based on market demand.”

The adjustments to the poker regulations for the racetracks aren’t about making poker more popular in the state. The increased number of cash game tables – as well as the increase in tables for tournaments and other table games – is a direct effort by the state to raise revenues for the tracks to preserve their place in the horse racing industry. Through the increased revenues, Canterbury Park and Running Aces Harness Park will be able to offer increased purses for their live races, potentially drawing more business to the state.

“While this legislation will not solve the revenue problems the industry faces, it is an important step in the right direction for Minnesota horse racing,” Sampson stated. “We are grateful the Legislature and Governor recognized the current, fragile state of horse breeding and horse racing in Minnesota and provided new tools we can use to strengthen our business and enhance purses.”

Jeff Hilger, the president of the Equine Development Coalition of Minnesota, agreed with Sampson regarding the new poker regulations. “Racing purses are the fuel of our horse industry,” Hilger said after the passage of the new regulations. “This legislation will help stop the decline of the breeding industry in Minnesota and send a clear sign to Minnesota owners and trainers that the state is serious about protecting the future of the equine industry.”

Although it does seem as if the passage of the laws is more to aid the state’s other interests, the passage of the new poker regulations in Minnesota once again shows the power of the game to raise revenues that can take care of individual state’s multitude of issues.

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