Dayton throws cold water on latest Vikings stadium plan

Vikings stadium proposal
Gov. Mark Dayton announced a Vikings stadium deal with Mayor R.T. Rybak, left, and Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Thursday, March 1, 2012. Dayton is skeptical of a new funding plan for the stadium which was released on Sunday April 1, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

A deal reached over the weekend intended to settle doubts about financing a new football stadium got the thumbs down from Gov. Mark Dayton this morning.

The governor said a provision that legalizes sports-themed tipboards violates federal law and can't be a part of the stadium deal.

The deal, reached by charitable gambling operators and stadium negotiators, was a variation on the plan to legalize electronic pull-tabs.

Among the ways stadium boosters offered to sweeten the pot and get gambling sponsors on board was by giving them another game — sports-related tipboards that are popular, but illegal in Minnesota.

The governor said they should have asked him first.

"I oppose the tipboard because of the fact that it's my understanding that it's illegal under federal law," Dayton said. "And I don't think the Legislature should pass or I should sign anything that's illegal."

Dayton cited a 1995 attorney general's opinion barring the games. He added that the state was in no position to challenge the law, given what he feels is the urgency of resolving the stadium issue.

"It's the same issue that we had with the tribes, depending on racino or some expansion of gambling that the tribes opposed," Dayton said. "Until that's resolved in court, which could be a number of years, you can't use that as a revenue source to issue bonds. I mean, the bond holders weren't going to go for that. I just don't think it's viable."

Dayton also objected to not being involved in the negotiations. His administration initially made an offer to evenly split $125 million in electronic pull-tab proceeds with charitable gambling operations. Last month, Dayton offered to up the charities take by $10 million more, with the rest still dedicated to stadium debt.

The governor said he was surprised Sunday to find the charities had reached a separate deal with stadium backers in the Legislature.

"We've worked very well, and in a bi-partisan way on this project, and put thousands of hours into it," he said. "To have it worked out with other groups and not even including me and my administration is very disappointing."

The stadium bill has been stalled at the Legislature because of concerns that the electronic pull-tabs funding mechanism is not adequate to cover the state's $400 million share of the project. Supporters say the weekend agreement is a way to get the bill moving again.

Backers of the deal defended the plan, even after the governor voiced his objections.

Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said the governor was wrong to call sports tipboards illegal.

"Nope. That's not true. Our people have vetted it out," Kriesel said. "We wouldn't be bringing any legislation forward that would break federal law."

Kriesel urged the governor to think twice before opposing the games, which he says will prove popular.

"If the governor wants the Vikings stadium as much as he's indicated, then this is the best way to do it, and this is the way we can get support," Kriesel said. "His idea didn't have enough money there, and so this is the way we have to move forward if we want to get it done this session."

Allied Charities of Minnesota, the trade group that represents charitable gambling operators, originally offered the tipboard idea in 2005. King Wilson, executive director, said he doesn't think it will run afoul of federal prohibitions on sports betting. He said it only uses the numerals in game scores, not on the result of the game.

"We just think ours, because it has nothing to do with winners and losing and odds, that it doesn't apply," Wilson said. "We also do believe that, you know, the only way to find out is you offer it up, and someone rules against you, the federal law itself is probably unconstitutional."

But some other stadium supporters were cautious about the plan after Dayton's remarks.

"Tipboards are illegal," said state Sen. Julie Rosen. She left little doubt about her feelings on the proposal. She said House negotiators didn't talk to her about the idea, even though she is carrying the stadium bill in the Senate.

Rosen said she did introduce a measure today to legalize a video version of lottery scratch-off games — but she said the stadium deal didn't need any more tinkering, let alone a controversial backup-up financing plan.

"Nobody has called me. Nobody has told me about this backup plan," Rosen said. "I feel very similar to the governor — it's, what's the agreement?"

Which leaves the stadium stuck where it's been for weeks, without much sign of consensus on how to move forward.