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In re Request of North Metro Harness Initiative, LLC

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

September 3, 2013

In the Matter of the Request of North Metro Harness Initiative, LLC, to Amend its Plan of Operation to Include the Use of the TMS 300 Royal Match 21 Blackjack and Royal Match Progressive

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Minnesota Racing Commission

Thomas A. Keller, III, John P. Boyle, Timothy R. Franzen, Moss & Barnett, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for relator North Metro Harness Initiative, LLC)

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Joan M. Eichhorst, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent Minnesota Racing Commission)

Considered and decided by Bjorkman, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Rodenberg, Judge.

BJORKMAN, Judge

Relator challenges respondent's denial of its request to amend its plan of operation, arguing that (1) respondent erred by relying on an opinion from another agency, (2) substantial evidence does not support the decision, and (3) the decision is arbitrary and capricious. We affirm.

FACTS

Respondent Minnesota Racing Commission (MRC) issued a license authorizing relator North Metro Harness Initiative LLC (North Metro) to conduct horseracing and card-club operations at Running Aces Harness Park. North Metro's plan of operation allows it to offer card playing, including manually dealt blackjack. On October 2, 2012, North Metro asked MRC for authorization to amend its plan of operation to include the use of TMS300 Royal Match 21 Blackjack and Royal Match Progressive (Table Master), a fully automated blackjack table.

MRC asked the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division (Gambling Enforcement) whether North Metro's proposed use of Table Master would comply with Minnesota's gambling laws. After reviewing North Metro's request, which included a description of Table Master and its technical specifications, Gambling Enforcement determined that Table Master is a "gambling device" and "video game of chance" as defined by Minn. Stat. § 609.75, subds. 4, 8 (2012). Because North Metro is not among the entities to which a gambling device may be distributed under Minn. Stat. § 299L.07, subd. 2a(b) (2012), Gambling Enforcement opined that approval of North Metro's request would violate the law.

MRC conducted three public hearings during which North Metro provided testimony to support its request. Tracie Wilson, Running Aces Harness Park's CFO, testified that the card club currently offers two forms of blackjack. In the first, a dealer shuffles physical cards using an electronic shuffler with a random-number algorithm and manually deals the cards to players. The second form uses iTables. A dealer still uses an electronic shuffler and deals physical cards to players. But iTables have electronic touchscreens for each player that display the value of players' cards[1] and permit players to make wagers, side bets, and plays (e.g., hit or stand). The iTable electronically determines the winners of the hand and distributes electronic credits accordingly.

Wilson explained that Table Master is a fully automated blackjack table. Table Master does not involve a human dealer or physical cards; rather, it deals electronic units (based on a 52-card deck) to the players, using an electronic shuffler with a random-number algorithm. Players insert money directly into Table Master and receive electronic credits, which are displayed on players' screens. Players use their screens to make wagers, side bets, and plays.

Table Master is manufactured by Shufflemaster Entertainment. Brandon Knowles, Shufflemaster's general manager, testified that Table Master is not a simulation of blackjack but the actual game of blackjack played electronically. Knowles stated that Table Master has been tested and recognized as a reliable blackjack table. But he acknowledged that most jurisdictions consider Table Master a slot machine because it uses a random-number generator to determine the game's outcome. Knowles testified that he did not know whether Minnesota law permits Shufflemaster to sell Table Master to North Metro.

North Metro argued that MRC should not rely on Gambling Enforcement's opinion because Minn. Stat. ยง 240.30, subd. 6 (2012), grants MRC exclusive authority to determine North Metro's request. North Metro asserted, contrary to Gambling Enforcement's determination, that Table Master is not a gambling device or video game of chance. North Metro further submitted a proposed order with findings of fact and conclusions of law, which incorporated these ...


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