Minnesota answers alarmist

Minnesota may be the Land of Sky Blue Waters, but there still are sizeable pools of muddy thinking there.

Over the weekend, and undoubtedly to be continued over coming weekends, the Minneapolis Star Tribune was having a ball with a non-story.

A servant of the people, Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver, was trying to defend the good citizens whose welfare he monitors. The threat was not anthrax or alien attack, but Autotote, the company that provides the majority of American racetracks with their tote systems. It had – horrors! – done business with a company that engaged in Internet gambling.

Weaver advised the Minnesota Racing Commission that in his opinion Autotote was breaking the law in Minnesota and should not be licensed. The commission thanked Mr. Weaver for his advice and licensed Autotote, which has been providing Canterbury Downs with tote service for years.

This brought down the wrath of the Star Tribune on the heads on the commission, with a headline screaming “Minnesota Racing Commission ignores license warnings.” The story said, “The Minnesota Racing Commission disregarded warnings from top law enforcement officials who said Autotote Systems cannot receive a license because of its association with an Internet gambling Web site that takes bets from Minnesotans, which law enforcement says is prohibited under state law.”

The chairwoman of the racing commission, Cynthia Piper, deserves a Minnesota Medal of Merit for her response and coolness under fire. And for her common sense.

The racing commission in Minnesota has the right to reject the advice of the division of Public Safety, and to its credit did so and licensed Autotote to continue servicing Canterbury Downs.

Chairwoman Piper noted that the law is ambiguous on Internet gambling on horse racing, that some states have approved it, and that the federal government has given no clear direction. She is right on all counts.

The attorney for Scientific Games, the parent of Autotote, pointed out “the gambling industry, and what’s happened to it in the last 15 to 18 years, has grown a lot faster than the network of laws that govern it.” He’s right, too.

Weaver’s argument is that “Given that Autotote has an ongoing business relationship with an illegal gambling enterprise, we do not believe it is eligible to be licensed by the Racing Commission.”

The “illegal enterprise,” is Internet wagering, which is following the course of the Internet itself and circling the globe.

Internet wagering is illegal in Minnesota, and because Autotote services Youbet, which leases equipment from Autotote for Internet betting, Charlie Weaver thinks that, ipso facto, Autotote should not be licensed. Scientific Games’ attorney and commission chairwoman Piper both think the safety commissioner’s views amount to guilt by association.

Weaver’s weavers wove this crazy quilt: Because Autotote receives a share of money wagered through its system by Youbet, and because Youbet accepted some bets from someone in Minnesota, Autotote is violating Minnesota laws against Internet betting.

What led to all this, after years of Autotote servicing Canterbury Downs?

For one thing, while conducting “an extensive background check of Autotote,” state investigators discovered a $650 entry for a wedding present for the chairman of Youbet.com. For another, someone at Youbet took a bet in a sting operation set up by the state’s investigators, who then concluded, “It was apparent that it would have been possible to place wagers from a person providing fictitious information. We created false documents and supplied them to Youbet. At no time were we told we could not bet because we were from Minnesota.”

Youbet would not let the guy who used false documents bet on races at Canterbury Park, and later said it would not accept wagers from Minnesota on Canterbury races. Youbet’s Internet site has posted on it similar restrictions on betting for residents of other states.

State attorneys general are not high on my list of favorites. At best they are also eligible, and not likely to draw in. Most of them start campaigning to be governor from the day they are anointed, a good example being their crowding for spots in front of the television cameras during their group forays against Big Tobacco and Microsoft. They adore publicity. But the attorney general of Minnesota, Mike Hatch, moved to the head of my list of candidates worthy of drawing in when he simply advised the racing commissioners that Internet gambling is illegal in Minnesota – which they already knew – and did not take a position on the Autotote licensing matter.

What about the Commissioner of Public Safety?

Let his governor handle him, with a body slam and reverse headlock. Go, Body! Straighten him out, Jesse!

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