Sen. committee adds racino plan as it approves stadium bill

Stadium concept
The Minnesota Vikings released this concept of a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis, April, 2, 2012. This concept depicts the downtown skyline and events surrounding Vikings game days.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

In a surprise maneuver, supporters of putting slot machines at Minnesota horse tracks tacked a racino plan onto the Vikings stadium bill on Wednesday.

As the Senate finance committee approved the bill it added a plan to legalize slot machines at horse tracks as a backup financing mechanism. The measure will now head for the Senate tax committee, and could be headed for a vote by both the House and Senate within days.

Stadium supporters want to fund the $975-million project with new electronic pull-tabs, bingo, and downtown sales taxes in Minneapolis. The measure has been working its way through the Legislature for weeks.

Stadium bill author Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said the addition threatens to kill the bill. She said there is still time to strip the racino option, which is likely to draw opposition from the state's Indian tribes and gambling opponents.

"It complicates it a little bit, but it can be dealt with," Rosen said. "Just like we deal with everything else. Moving along."

The original plan had electronic pull-tabs and bingo contributing about $400 million toward the stadium cost. The city of Minneapolis and the Vikings would pick up the rest of the cost.

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Vikings vice president Lester Bagley reacted coolly to the addition after the committee meeting.

"We don't have a particular say on racino, other than with four or five days left in the session, to add that, to change the agreement fundamentally is a concern," Bagley said. "But in terms of that funding source, we've always been open to it."

The Senate tax committee is scheduled to take up the stadium bill Thursday, where it appears to have enough support to pass and head to a full Senate vote. The bill is awaiting a floor vote in the House.

The Senate finance committee's approval came as an NFL vice president and a trio of Vikings players arrived at the Capitol to lobby for a new stadium.

Vikings center John Sullivan said the stadium isn't just for him and his teammates.

"It's more than just a Vikings issue. It's a statewide issue, passing a stadium. You know, there's only a handful of Vikings games per year. It helps out a lot more than just the Vikings: the people of Minnesota, creating jobs," Sullivan said.

"This team wants to be here, obviously. This franchise is the face is what's going on in the stadium push. But there are a lot of different people that are going to be helped out by the stadium."

Opponents say they still have reservations about using electronic pull- tabs and bingo to pay for the stadium. They also say that taxpayers could be on the hook if the funding doesn't work out as planned.