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Dayton names new Minnesota Racing Commission chairman

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton kept Jesse Overton as a member of the Minnesota Racing Commission on Monday but designated a new appointee to succeed him as chairman.

The governor named attorney Ralph Strangis to head the commission. Strangis also led the commission the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The department confirmed last week that Overton was under investigation but didn't identify the nature of the probe or say when it would finish.

Dayton had a Monday deadline to announce his decisions for the commission. The announcement from his office made no mention of the investigation, but thanked Strangis for returning.

Dayton also named Thomas DiPasquale as a member and appointed Kristin Batson from the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget as interim executive director until a new director takes office.

It's just the latest shakeup in a turbulent time for the gambling regulatory body. The board's executive director retired while two others in the professional ranks came under investigations, including the chief veterinarian. The targets of those probes insisted they were being unfairly targeted.

The racing commission oversees Minnesota's two horse racing tracks, which also are home to poker and card game clubs. By ensuring racing integrity, the commission's goal is to stimulate the state's equine industry and make it attractive for out-of-state breeders to run their horses here.

The two horse tracks attracted a combined $54 million in betting on live and simulcast races in 2012. Revenue from the card clubs — a slice of which is used to augment racing purses — neared $50 million last year at the two facilities, according to the commission's annual report.

Overton has been on the commission for four years, the last couple as its chairman.

When Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed Overton in 2007, the self-identified Democrat came with prominent references. They included former Democratic state Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe and Brooks Fields, the founder of the Canterbury Park racetrack.

Overton made his mark in business as the head of a high tech firm that developed digital school course material. But he was also active in civil rights and urban policy, for a time serving as president of the St. Paul chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Racing commission members don't earn a state salary, but they can claim a $55 allowance for each day they spend working on board business.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.