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Independence gubernatorial candidate envisions riverboat gambling

RED WING, Minn. -- An Independence Party gubernatorial candidate envisions Minnesotans floating down the Mississippi River while playing hands of blackjack.

"To me, it's all about generating fresh revenue," said Rob Hahn.

The St. Paul man who is challenging Tom Horner on the IP ticket began pitching the proposal Tuesday to a group of Red Wing business leaders.

Hahn's proposal would legalize riverboat gambling in Minnesota, with six boats operating on the Mississippi between St. Paul and Winona.

He claims the program would capture up to $600 million in annual revenue to the state, city and counties.

He proposes sending half of all revenue to the state's general fund, with K-12 education and Local Government Aid each receiving 20 percent. Hahn proposes directing the final 10 percent toward tourism.

The plan already has began to draw critics.

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, likened the riverboat concept to numerous racino proposals, which have sought to generate state revenue through gambling at the state's horse racing tracks.

He opposes any gambling expansion in the state, noting that it "would be in direct competition to Treasure Island, which is our largest employer in the county."

Still, Kelly doubted ideas like racino or state-sponsored riverboats will go away anytime soon.

"It's going to stay out there as long as we've got the situation we do in the state," he said, referring to projections of another state budget deficit.

Hahn said he based his estimates on data from the American Gaming Association. That would include the creation of 3,000 jobs and casino wages of up to $250 million annually.

Horner, a racino supporter, said he opposes Hahn's riverboat proposals.

"All the economic studies I've seen reflect that it's a substitution effect," Horner said Tuesday. "When you create jobs in an enterprise like a casino, you're taking hospitality and entertainment dollars elsewhere."

Horner contends that the substitution issue would have a smaller impact at racinos, where legalized gambling is already established.

Mike Longaecker is a reporter at the Red Wing (Minn.) Republican Eagle, which is owned by Forum Communications Co., which also owns the Bemidji Pioneer.