ST. PAUL -- A southwestern Minnesota farmer and an eastern Twin Cities Army veteran, two unlikely supporters, are leading a legislative effort to allow a downtown Minneapolis casino.
Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, and Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said the entire state would benefit from a Minneapolis casino near where the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Timberwolves play.
The Magnus-Kriesel plan, which needs legislative approval, adds to an already crowded gambling plate. Also on Wednesday, a Senate committee approved allowing bars, service organizations and others to use electronic pull tabs and bingo to raise money for charities.
Magnus and Kriesel joined the developer of Minneapolis' Block E and others to support building a shiny casino in the area where entertainment businesses have faltered.
"This will help downtown Minneapolis put people back to work," Kriesel said. "If Minneapolis is healthy, it helps the whole state."
Supporters say the project, known as Minnesota Live, would attract 5.6 million visitors per year from around the Midwest to a 213,000-square-foot facility with meeting rooms and entertainment services besides a casino. Rebuilding the area would cost private developers $200 million.
Kriesel said the casino would provide the state with $125 million a year. Minnesota also would be paid a $50 million up-front fee.
Magnus told the Worthington Daily Globe that he agreed to be the lead Senate author of the bill as a way to bring additional money into the state's transportation fund.
"I've given this a lot of thought," Magnus said. "I've been desperately trying to find some infrastructure money. I know we can't pass a gas tax increase now ... and we're not able to keep up."
Magnus said Minnesota Live could reinvigorate downtown Minneapolis, and if that happens the entire state could be reinvigorated.
Kriesel emphasized that the plan, which is to be officially introduced in the Legislature today, would not cost taxpayers.
While Kriesel said he told House leaders that he would introduce the bill, he does not have leadership support. The bill has missed all legislative deadlines and would need special permission to advance before the session ends on May 23.
The Cottage Grove Republican said he is confident there is time to pass the measure.
"I think there are a lot of people who are going to climb on this," Kriesel said.
While tribal casino representatives worried that a Minneapolis casino would take business away from them, Kriesel said he thinks they would appeal to different customers. Minnesota Live is emphasizing a younger crowd than frequents casinos.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he is willing to look at the Minneapolis casino plan, but emphasized that he wants any new state gambling revenue to be used for education and job creation.
Another plan for new casinos is due for a House hearing today after a Senate hearing suddenly was canceled Wednesday night. The "racino" bill would allow casinos in the state's two horse-racing tracks.
Meanwhile, a Senate committee approved allowing charitable gambling, which uses games such as pull tabs and bingo, to switch to electronic devices instead of traditional paper. Kriesel is carrying a similar bill in the House.
Supporters say allowing the electronic devices would attract more players, including younger people accustomed to using electronics. Charitable gambling is available in bars, service organizations and elsewhere.
King Wilson, who represents the state's charities, told senators that the number of locations where charitable gambling takes place has fallen from 3,100 to 2,800 in recent years and charity officials testified that money they raise is shrinking.
"It is time to take a look at some automation," Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, said.
President Victoria Winfrey of the Prairie Island Indian Community council testified that she fears the Parry bill could allow pull tab and bingo devices to look like electronic slot machines, which would hurt business at her tribe's Treasure Island Casino.
With more than 33,000 new electronic gambling devices possible statewide, she said, "that is a huge expansion of gambling."
Wilson said charities do not want to have slot machines and he agreed to work out a compromise with tribal casino officials.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.