Lobbyists gamble with a million for casinos

PAUL – Groups and companies with a stake in this year’s gambling debate at the Capitol combined to spend more than $1 million on lobbying, and Caesars Entertainment Inc. was by far the highest roller.

But being the biggest spender doesn’t ensure success. Despite devoting $636,000 to the effort, the Las Vegas-based Caesars failed to make much headway in its bid to put a private casino near the Mall of America.

The owners of the Canterbury Park horse racing track put $78,500 toward lobbying for slot machine privileges at the Shakopee track. They had the backing of the Republican-led House but didn’t get very far in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Interests backing expanded gambling outspent those trying to maintain the American Indian monopoly on casino ownership by more than 2 to 1. Together, the main tribal groups spent more than $320,000.

The spending is documented in reports filed this month with the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. The reports cover lobbying expenses from January through May and account for things like advertising, phone calls, travel and preparation of materials. But these reports offer further proof of mounting pressure on the tribes. Some lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a longtime opponent of expanded gambling, want them to share their profits with the state. Pawlenty hasn’t ruled out proposals that would open the market to private companies willing to give the state a cut.

That helps explain why Caesars is waging such an aggressive fight.

Robert Stewart, senior vice president of corporate communications, offered no regrets for Caesar spending as much as it did. He contends the state would benefit from a private casino through hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars a year in new tax revenue.

Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, is fighting to keep Caesars from building in her area. She was astounded by the company’s lobbying bill and said it’s a sign of the daunting challenge opponents like her face.

“I don’t have the financial tools that they do,” she said. “My district has been polled, it’s been mailed things, there’s been literature dropped, there are lawn signs. As far as head-to-head money, I can’t do that.”

Other groups with a strong lobbying presence this year included:

The Minnesota Twins, which spent $212,450 during the five months in search of a new stadium. Separately, a Minneapolis development group calling itself Twinsville devoted $34,430 to the effort.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which lobbies on business issues, reported $73,840 in expenses.

The Minnesota Family Council put $71,370 into lobbying, most notably for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

The Northstar Corridor Development Authority, which represents various local governments seeking a commuter rail line between Minneapolis and Big Lake, spent $36,350..