Friday, July 08, 2005

Canterbury tales

Everybody wants something.

I get most of my news about MN from Pied Piper's daily breakdown. But sometimes I need to survey the scene myself, descend from the abstract to the particular, see and hear the gambling masses at Canterbury Park in Shakopee and get the scoop straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak.

If you are unfamiliar with horse racing, like me, Thursday Buck Nights ($1 admission, $1 hot dogs, $1 sodas and $1 nachos) seem propitious. So, I made the pilgrimage with two friends to Shakopee. From the grandstand overlooking the track, one takes in "beautiful" views of Valley Fair, the Shakopee water tower, horse stables and houses. People come from all over MN: Princeton, Rosemont, St. Anthony, Edina, Minneapolis. Last night, like every night, the mutuel betting system was in full tilt. At the racino games rooms, "Saturdays are so super at Canterbury Park, we decided to call them Super Saturday Cash Giveaway days!!," the announcer said. For at least a majority of those in attendance, it is only the thrill of gambling which makes racing fans of the public (I bet $2 to win on Cat Toy. My pick came in last. That's why I don't gamble).

Running a gambling house was something only gangsters, like Al Capone, made a living from. Today, however, respectable gambling-houses are no longer a social anomaly. Indeed, gaming is in high demand; it's popular. The polls indicate that 70 percent of those polled are in favor of racino at Canterbury Park. Though some Democrats think that it is "wrong" to make "government dependent on people's gambling losses," (AP, July 7, 2005), extracting taxes and fees from the profits of institutions — restaurants, bars, casinos, liquor stores, cigarette manufacturers, beer companies, sports venues, etc. — that feed the bad habits — smoking, drinking, gambling, etc. — of the largely poor masses who live cheap, hard lives is nothing new.

Racino, as of 1 p.m. Friday, is off the bargaining table in the ongoing partisan efforts to set the sources of tax and non-tax revenue to pay for the state's budget — but not forever. If the state resolves the government shutdown without racino revenue, you can bet that at least Canterbury Park and its full-time lobbyist will continue to push for racino legislation. You see, Canterbury is affected by the Keeping-up-with-the-Joneses ratchet effect. Though the track's profits continue to increase, if it would attract quality horses and wagering dollars, it has to be competitive with other tracks across America, which have been able to offer more and more prize money by establishing — that's right — racinos (see Star Tribune, May 6, 2005, p. 14C). Canterbury thinks racino is a sure bet, a way to attract major league horse racing. In exchange, they would be willing to pay the state $210 million over the next two years, money that the state would allot (if it is allotable) for "supplemental" spending, such as "more aid to local government, public pensions, improving water quality and providing salary supplements for government employees" (Star Tribune, July 7, 2005, p. 1A). That's what they want.

The Indians want to maintain their lucrative monopoly on casinos. Tim Pawlenty wants racino to pay for budget priorities. Democratic leaders don't want to expand casino gambling and belive that the promise of racino revenue is unfounded. Public opinion wants racino.

I say, let them gamble at Canterbury, too. If you disagree, then explain to me this: Why should Mystic Lake, which is only four miles away, be allowed to make untaxed millions and not Canterbury?


Anti-Everything said...

Spoken like a typical white male…why should those brown skinned folks get all of the money and leave us with squat, I want my piece of the pie.

I thoroughly enjoy the change in tone that many Minnesotans are currently expressing in regards to the Racino and the Native American populations that operate Mystic Lake. But let’s just think back about twenty years or so. I have relatives that live near the Shakopee/Prairie Island area and I can remember growing up hearing nothing but stereo typical views when people in that area discuss the native populations that live there. “These people are lazy!”, “These people are poor!”, and of course who could forget the always popular, “These people are all drunks!”

And then the so called “poor and lazy drunkards” discovered that white people were more than willing to make the 45 minute drive from the Twin Cities to play bingo and they quickly learned that this could be their ticket to get out of poverty. So they expanded to not only have bingo but to also include other gaming options.

And wouldn’t you know that once the income from these games started to come in the community once again prospered (after centuries of hardship, thanks to us lovely white “Americans”).

George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” It appears that this is most certainly true. It’s obvious that “we” (meaning non native people) have learned very little about our past treatment of Native Americans when they have something that “we” want. First it was unfulfilled treaties and the theft of their land, followed by being subjected to cruel poverty by the hands of an American government that couldn’t give a damn about them, or the direct mishandling of Native American trust funds by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the tune of nearly $300 million a year (

But why should any of these reasons matter when the fact remains that there are no longer “poor, drunk and lazy Indians” wandering around Shakopee, now there are “lazy well off Indians” living in the Shakopee area and that is much worse. At least when they were all “drunk and lazy” it was easy to look down upon them, but now that they actually have money and are no longer living in poverty all we can do is look at them with hatred and greed.

So come on all you redneck bigoted whities it is time to circle your wagons around the governor and get that Racino added into the budget. Because those uppity snobbish redskin savages have had it too good for too long and it is time that "we" get what "we" deserve.

Ilya said...

Racino proposals have nothing to do with "unfulfilled treaties," or "theft," or mishandled trust funds. The Annual Indian Gaming Report, a recent comprehensive review of Indian gaming, found that "405 tribal casinos in 30 states contribued $6.2 billion in taxes, two-thirds of which went to the federal government. The rest was split between local and state governments" (AP, June 14, 2005). The tribes that contribute taxes to federal, state and local governments in exchange for more games and longer contracts, do so through legal, negotiated deals signed with the government.

Some tribes, which include Minnesota tribes, have refused. You may recall, for example, that Pawlenty's original proposal involved state-tribal casinos and three northern tribes. But the proposal failed to garner support from the Legislature and two of the tribes after the plan evolved into two separete casinos at Canterbury.

One need not advocate state-tribal casinos or taxing tribes in order to establish racino at Canterbury. Obviously the tribes wish to maintain their monopoloy on casinos -- just like criticism, nobody welcomes business competition. Nevertheless, greater competition is a far cry from state-sponsored exploitation, exploitation which you seem to be so worried about.

Archduke F. F. said...

Though I wouldn't take the snotty tone of anti-everything, I believe he/she is quite right.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that was put into law in ?1987? allows Native Americans to put casinos on their own sovereign land in order to generate revenue for the tribe. As such, it is a way for the tribes to take themselves out of the poverty that has essentially been forced upon them by 500 years of systematic destruction.

What is supremely interesting about all this is that casinos are only on rez land, and that basically means that they're on land that was chosen for the tribes because of its shittiness. Whenever reservation land is found to be rich in minerals, deep soil, fresh water, it is taken away and given to whites. Casinos are really the only moneymaking ventures possible on reservation lands, since the tribes (at least those "native" to Minnesota) don't have a ton of great farmland and, even if they did, they were originally hunters, not farmers.

The question is whether we should take away the one revenue stream that the tribes can generate. It's not just that we're taking the revenue stream away, but that we're using governmental power to do it. We're looking at the most marginalized culture in American history and saying "You know, you're starting to do better down here, but--and we're sorry about this--we're going to have to push you back down to poverty. Because we don't know how to effectively spend within our means. Yeah, I know, we should probably call a financial counselor or something. Yeah, I have the number to DebtStoppers. Do you think they could help us? Yeah, I know, we did kill at least 2 million of your fellow Native Americans, but that was so many years ago. It wasn't my family who did it. What's your problem? Why do you have to be so belligerent? Maybe you deserve to have your livelihood taken away. Jerks."

I'll let someone else comment on whether it is moral to use casino money to fund government programs.

Anonymous said...

Responding to Ilya's comment:

Actually, the "monopoly" isn't a true monopoly. There are VFW and Knights of Columbus Bingo Halls, Canterbury has a poker room, and there are pull-tabs at hundreds of bars in the Twin Cities alone.

PiedPiper said...

Well, allow me to toss my hat into the ring. While I think there are legitmate arguments on both sides of this debate, I fall into the anti-gambling category. I've never liked gambling, and I'm uncomfortable with the state essentially getting into the business of running casinos.

And that is the main crux of the debate. As part of the run-up to this latest legislative session, Pawlenty began an extortion campaign against tribes with casinos. They pay the taxes that are prescribed under current state and federal legislation. Pawlenty viewed this as an unfair amount (due to the state's lack of revenue and his own no-new-taxes pledge, he needed to find a revenue source). His threat to the tribes followed very shallow lines: Either pay the state what I deem appropriate, or we will go into competition against you. Were this any other industry, there would be howls of criticism, particularly from Pawlenty's business-friendly base, but since it was American Indians (who, coincidentally, tend to vote Democratic) he was spoiling for a fight.

The original proposal - to go into business with several casino-less and deeply impoverished tribes - fell apart because it turned out to be a bad deal for both the state and the tribes in question (all of whom eventually pulled their support for the idea).

The racino concept is a separate and far trickier proposal. It's not so much that a Canterbury Park racino would be in severe competition with geograhpic neighbor Mystic Lake (the casino may even benefit from such a situation), it's that the proposal puts the state government in charge of a casino (under the auspices of a front corporation).

While Ilya states truthfully that there is a long history of funding government on the backs of people's vices, the government does not have a hand in the ownership of bars or cigarette distributors. Putting government at the helm of an institution that promotes unhealthy choices and potentially leads to personal ruin and addiction is just plain wrong.

PiedPiper said...

Upon further consideration, I must ammend my previous comment. The state does indeed run a gambling institution - lottery tickets - and generates revenue fro that enterprise. This practice, however, is still within the bounds of my earlier position as it is not in direct competition of any industry and (I presume) very rarely, if ever, leads to personal financial ruin and addiction. (I don't doubt some would make the argument that lottery tickets are some sort of gateway to casinos, but I don't think that argument holds credibility.)

Also, based on my latest post about Philip Caputo's 'Acts of Faith,' I think we can see through this thread of comments that this is yet another issue that is outside the stark contrast of political positions, as our politicians would have us believe, and resides more so in the gray area. Just an observation...

Ilya said...

Responding to a point Pied Piper raised: I don't think the state would be running any sort of operations at Canterbury if racino legislation were passed. As far as I know - and I may be wrong - the money the state would levy from racino is in the form of a fee that the track would pay over, say, two years.

And state lotteries are interesting, because lotteries are one proven way for struggling governments to raise money. Again, while gambling is always "a tax on people who are bad at math," it produces results. And politicians know that the people judge by results.