Betting on a comebackAre video slot machines, electronic bingo and electronic pull-tabs in Douglas County’s future?
By: Wendy Wilson, Alexandria Echo Press
Are video slot machines, electronic bingo and electronic pull-tabs in Douglas County’s future?
Bills currently before the Minnesota Legislature propose allowing new forms of gambling in bars and restaurants and expanding horse-racing tracks in Minnesota to include casinos, effectively making them “racinos.”
American Indian tribal members associated with the casinos openly opposed the bills in a recent rally at the Capitol, but many bar owners have a different view.
“I don’t want to compete [with the casinos],” said Linda Dahl, owner of Herby’s Bar, Grill and Café in Carlos. “I just want a little piece.”
Dahl is president of The West Central Food and Beverage Association and a member of the coalition, “Profit Minnesota,” that is in favor of the expanded gambling bills for bars and restaurants.
“I really don’t want to see the racino nor the racetrack go, because it makes another destination for our customers to go to,” she said.
Dahl said Herby’s has been deeply affected by the statewide smoking ban, increased gas prices and the economy in general. It used to employ 20 people, but now only has six employees.
Does Herby’s plan to have video slot machines, electronic bingo and electronic pull-tabs installed if the bills pass?
“You bet,” Dahl said. “Put some revenue back in the small town areas.”
Dahl feels bringing more people through their doors would improve employment levels at their establishment.
The bill has other benefits, according to Dahl.
“Our gaming bill will help charities,” she said. “They’ve taken a hit in the last few years.”
Do they foresee any problems with patrons gambling and using alcohol simultaneously?
“We’ve been mixing alcohol and gambling for a long time,” Dahl said. “People addicted to gambling will still find something to gamble on.”
Many local bars currently have paper pull-tabs available for sale.
Other Douglas County area bars and restaurants expressed agreement with the bill to allow additional forms of gambling.
“A little bit of gaming wouldn’t hurt anything,” said Charlie Meyer, owner of the Broadway Ballroom in Alexandria. “It would help the hospitality industry. We pay more than our average share of taxes anyway.”
Meyer said legislators should compensate for the smoking ban that’s hurt local bars.
“They need to do something, to be honest, and they can tax the heck out of it,” he said and expressed concern that Minnesota does not tax tribal casinos in the state.
According to the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association’s Website at http://www.mnindiangamingassoc.com/faqs.html:
“Tribal casinos are tax-exempt because they are government operations, not private, for-profit businesses. Just as state lottery revenues are reserved for use by the state, tribal gaming revenues are reserved for use by the tribes. Congress did not intend tribal gaming to be a revenue source for states.”
Meyer said the circumstances he faces are difficult.
“If they got rid of all the gambling, I’d be happier,” he said. “If they’re running off to the casino, they don’t have money to come bowling or go out to eat either.”
But since that isn’t the case, Meyer is looking for a more even playing field. He said he will implement more gambling at the Broadway Ballroom if the bills pass.
“It keeps people in the area and it keeps the money in the area,” he said.
Brad Zerr, food and beverage director at Rudy’s Redeye Grill in Alexandria, said they have been affected by the slumping economy as well.
Will Rudy’s implement additional forms of gambling if they become legal?
“It’s definitely a possibility, but something we’d have to discuss,” Zerr said.
Some local restaurant and bar owners will not be adding gambling to their businesses, however.
John Sheehan, owner of Dolittles Woodfire Grill in Alexandria said they would not bring any gambling to their restaurant if the bills pass.
“It would have an impact on our ambience,” Sheehan said. “We’re a quality dining experience that’s family-oriented.”