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Gambling regains footing in Vikings stadium finance talks

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Arden Hills stadium
A rendering of a proposed stadium for the Minnesota Vikings in Arden Hills. The team and Ramsey County announced a deal Tuesday to finance and build the stadium.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

With just five weeks to put together a stadium plan for the Minnesota Vikings, supporters are looking hard to find revenue sources for the project.

Gambling is an obvious source, said bill sponsor Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, and odds greaten that gambling might be part of the final proposal as stadium backers try to come up with the state's $300 million share of the $1.1 billion dollar stadium.

"Gaming certainly has to be one of the options that's considered, in fact, the original bill that we presented did have some gaming in it," Lanning said. "Those proceeds were earmarked to the facility, and gaming clearly is an option."

Stadium backers have stepped up their pitch since the end of the legislative session.

One of them, Republican State Rep. Tom Hackbarth, said he and another lawmaker met with the governor's staff just Tuesday to talk about funding a stadium with track and gaming proceeds.

Would-be Block E casino developer Bob Lux is scheduled to meet Wednesday with Gov. Mark Dayton to discuss the stadium.

Charlie Weaver, a former Republican legislator and executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, said gambling might be the compromise that stadium supporters have been searching for.

Gaming revenues would meet the governor's requirement that the stadium be paid for with something other than existing state revenues. Weaver said gambling might be able to sweeten an otherwise difficult stadium deal.

"The most obvious solution, at least in our view, that would be I think the most palatable to most politicians, is a gaming solution," Weaver said. "I think that's probably the one that's most easy to swallow."

A casino could even be a consolation prize to Minneapolis if the Vikings move to Arden Hills.

Gambling is not without its critics, and DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said he personally won't support an expansion of gaming, and that it could divide his caucus. Nor does he think gambling is necessary for a stadium.

"I think the state's share at $300 million is about $23 million a year," Bakk sid. "There's a number of ways that you can cobble together $23 million a year."

Funneling gambling money to an NFL stadium could face long odds, said the state's casino operators. Minnesota's 18 tribal-run casinos would likely dig in competitively against a state-run gaming expansion, said John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association. That could delay the stadium and increase cost, both of which the Vikings and stadium backers want to avoid.

McCarthy said that the governor's deadline of five weeks to come up with a solution isn't enough time to weigh the unintended consequences, such as the cost in outstate casino jobs and the other gaming expansion that might follow.

"I think that the folks that are talking about it, I think that they're trying to build the hype for it," McCarthy said. "Once again, they're diving into very dangerous water without checking what's there."

Vikings management said that it is up to the state if gambling is to be used to pay for the stadium as long as a casino isn't tied directly to the stadium, which would draw objections from the NFL.

The governor has left the door open to gambling even though he said he'd rather not have it as part of a stadium package.

"There are pros and cons," Dayton said. "Again, my preference would be it be clean and straightforward, and have the state share in the revenues from the operation of the stadium and have those who use the stadium, in a sense, pay off the bonds."

(MPR's Tom Scheck contrubuted to this report.)