GOP lawmaker: Slots could buy new Vikings stadium

HHH MetroDome
The HHH MetroDome in downtown Minneapolis is home to the Minnesota Vikings as seen prior to the Vikings NFL preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys on Friday, Sept. 4, 2009 .
AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid

Anticipation is building for Monday's Vikings-Packers game, and a Republican state legislator is trying to tap into the excitement to sell his plan to finance a new Vikings stadium with gambling revenue.

While football fans have high hopes for tonight's game, some key lawmakers say they shouldn't bet on any stadium bill next year.

State Rep. Tom Hackbarth of Cedar has been down this path before. Last session, he proposed a constitutional amendment to build a new state-run casino to pay for a Vikings stadium. The bill never got a hearing.

This time, Hackbarth wants to pay for the stadium through slot machines at two horse racing tracks, Canterbury Park in Shakopee and Running Aces in Anoka County. This so-called "racino" idea has been tried before without success. But with the Vikings Metrodome lease ending in 2011, Hackbarth said the state is running out of time, and gambling might be the only way to go.

"This is not the time to just sit back and say I haven't thought about what we're going to do about the Vikings," Hackbarth said. "We have to do something about this issue. We have to build a stadium, and my constituents are telling me I don't want taxpayer dollars gong to build a stadium, but I also don't want to see the Vikings leave. This is a perfect solution."

Hackbarth's proposal would put the racino question on the ballot in November 2010. The Republican said he has not yet talked talked to officials with the Vikings or the horse racing tracks about his plan.

State Rep. Tom Hackbarth
State Rep. Tom Hackbarth of Cedar wants to pay for a new Vikings stadium through slot machines at two horse racing tracks, Canterbury Park in Shakopee and Running Aces in Anoka County.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Last week, a Vikings official told members of a House committee that the team won't renew its Metrodome lease when it expires. He also repeated the team's desire for a public-private partnership to build a new home, which could cost as much as $950 million.

There could be additional stadium bills introduced next session, but DFL House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher of Minneapolis, isn't giving any of them much chance for success. Kelliher, who's also a candidate for governor, said a stadium bill has as much chance of getting traction as a truck on glare ice.

"Everyone wants the Vikings to do very well this season, and people are excited about that," Kelliher said. "But I don't really see with a major budget deficit headed our way that we'll be able to do anything for the Vikings stadium issue."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the Vikings are an important asset to Minnesota, and he wants someone to figure out a way to keep the team here. But Pawlenty told reporters over the weekend that he's not endorsing any specific strategy for reaching that general goal. And he seems to be sticking by his pledge not to increase state taxes.

"Historically, I supported the Gophers stadium because it was a public institution," Pawlenty said. "But there was no state money involved in the Twins stadium. One of the things we've suggested to the Vikings, if they're going to build a stadium, they should be looking for somebody locally to help them. Local, like a city or county."

Pawlenty, who's not running for re-election next year, also noted that there are more important issues facing the state. He said he has no plans to focus on a stadium in the coming months.

The Legislature returns to work in February.

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