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Charities to legislators: Gambling is not just for the Vikings stadium

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Allied Charities of Minnesota says the expansion into electronics is going well, despite doubts about whether it will grow enough, soon enough, to pay the state's share of a new Vikings stadium.

The trade group represents about half of the state's 1,200 licensed charitable gambling operators. Executive director Al Lund says charitable gambling is thriving, even if it is less lucrative than the state hoped. He put out a statement this afternoon:

“Charitable gaming is enjoying a very strong market for paper pulltabs. We were up about 8 percent last year and are on track to have another increase this year. Every business makes projections based on the current marketplace and trend lines. Building on our strong paper base, the e-game trend is encouraging.  Yes, we still are short of the number of sites we need. But the trend is in the right direction."

But he also offered a caution, as talk has grown of a "fix" for the stadium funding.

“We’re committed to the success of e-games and believe in the long-run, it will contribute to the success of the Vikings stadium. But we also hope all legislators remember that the primary purpose of charitable gaming is to generate revenue for our charitable missions and our communities. We understand the concerns some policymakers have over the stadium funding. We hope they will be encouraged by the trend and committed to protecting our core charitable work.

And Rep. Joe Atkins, (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) suggested that may well be the case at the Legislature, during an appearance on MPR's Daily Circuit program today. He's the chair of the House Commerce Committe, which has jurisdiction over the lottery, the Minnesota Racing Commission and the Minnesota Gambling Control Board.

Atkins is also one of the half dozen DFL lawmakers on the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Sports Facilities, the 12-member group appointed earlier this year to oversee the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and progress on the new Vikings stadium. They're expected to have a hearing on the electronic pulltab issue in coming weeks.

Here's what he told Daily Circuit host Kerri Miller this morning:

"We're also looking at what other states have done, and getting advice from Al Lund at Allied Charities, from Ed Van Petten, the lottery director, on gaming solutions, But I think you know we may have to look outside gaming. There's not a huge appetite at the Capitol for a massive gambling expansion, so I suspect the answer is probably going to  be a little bit of a tweak to what we currently have going on, with this charitable gambling and electronic pulltabs, and then looking at some alternatives."

Also at the Capitol today, there was a sign of movement on another stadium matter: the proposed rehab at Duluth's Wade Stadium. The city is asking for $250,000 in planning money to do a study of what the 1941 ballpark needs, and the House DFL bonding bill has precisely that amount listed in its spreadsheet, released today. Gov. Mark Dayton offered a slightly lesser amount -- $200,000 -- in his recommendations yesterday.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness says the study will scope out what the stadium might need. He also hopes the city will be able to identify some possible funding sources for $8 to $10 million in construction work.

Ness says property taxes are an option, but city officials might also ask to continue a tourist tax that paid off improvements at the DECC and the Great Lakes Aquarium early.

"The initial authorization would have allowed a tax to be in place until 2019, so would there be a possibility in going back and saying because it generated more than anticipated, it paid off sooner than anticipated and then blinked off," Ness said in an interview today. "So one potential thought would be to reinstate that through the original expiration date."