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Tricky Tim Rides Again
Jesse Ventura

Creativity will raise money for state
By Mike Sawin, Times Writers Group

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is on a quest to get the government's hands on gambling profits in Minnesota to make things right and fair — and to pioneer new ways to bring money into the tax rolls.

I even wrote a column on this a couple of months ago. But the story won't go away, and it's even taken a couple of interesting turns.

Observant folks might remember that at the end of last year, the governor basically told the American Indian tribes that run the casinos to pony up a good chunk of their cash, or he was going to open the door to some of the professional casino guys from Las Vegas to start some rival casinos.

Well, the tribes didn't cooperate, and maybe the Vegas guys weren't all that interested because Pawlenty has tried a new tack — and one that actually may work.

See, he found partners to help him: Minnesota tribes that don't run profitable-enough casinos.

 

The new twist is these tribes will open and run a casino at some centrally located hot spot (such as the Mall of America or the Albertville mall) and split profits with the government.

You have to admire the governor's tenacity. He just won't give up. My previous column took Pawlenty to task for trying a squeeze play to get his way, but this is different. If there is a critique in this column, it is that the governor isn't going far enough in his quest to create revenue streams based on addictive behavior.

Minnesota Zoo

Everyone talks about a racino at Canterbury Downs, which I suppose would be nice.

But just down the road is another Minnesota institution that is far greater need of an influx of dollars: the Minnesota Zoo.

I propose that we turn the zoo into a racino! We could even press the animals into service by actually running them in some of the races. They would probably welcome the exercise, and think of the educational opportunities.

Kids of all ages could learn math (figuring odds, counting money), biology (how fast does a cheetah really run?), human behavior (observing mom or dad betting the rent money on a land tortoise rally), and the laws of cause and effect (if you don't pay up, bad things happen).

Slot machines scattered throughout the zoo would be able to fund some exhibits directly.

If you're into herpetology, pump quarters at the snake pit or lizard caves.

If you like to look at primates, one-armed bandits could be posted right outside the chimpanzees' dwelling.

Duluth project

A bit farther to the north is another worthy place in need of funds: the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth.

I have to admit some bias here. My family and I have visited this wonderful place a couple of times, and I really hope there is some way to keep it open. It's a fine attraction, and a most welcome place to see lots of cool stuff when the weather in Duluth isn't being cooperative.

When you enter the aquarium, the first thing that catches your eye is the 24-foot Water Wall. The wall is made up of 35 glass panels, which are embossed with symbols of water from other cultures.

But what I see is an easy set up for a giant Plinko game. You drop a plastic disc down the wall and bet on where it lands. Plinko is quite popular on "The Price Is Right," and surely visitors to the aquarium would love it. Bob Barker would want some of the action, but hey, there's enough for everybody, right?

What would be more appropriate for gambling than the Isle Royale, exhibit home to 5-foot-long sturgeon, plus salmon, trout, burbot and a school of herring?

Some people marvel at the engineering feet of containing 85,000 tons of water and the hundreds of fish. What I see is a potential race that would rival NASCAR.

All of those colorful fish swim around those tanks naturally, and surely we have the technology to put little numbers on them. People could pick a fish and cheer it on as it goes on its rounds.

Isle Royale, Casino Royale — I tell you, it's a natural.

Other ideas

If the gambling thing doesn't work out, there are other formerly shady behaviors that have vast potential for financial exploitation.

We could rake in kilos of cash by legalizing and regulating drug production, distribution and use. Or just think of the legislative purses that could be filled if we could legally profit from prostitution.

The state of Minnesota already has taxed legal activity and products as much as we can without people taking to the streets in violent protest.

With this whole gambling thing, the state also has dipped its toe in the water of what we used to call a vice.

If our goal is to pursue revenue, we must open our minds and engage our imaginations in ways we have never done before.

The future beckons, and so do new frontiers of income enhancement.