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White Earth casino proposal one of many to build Vikings stadium

ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans from across the state sought to turn their pet projects into fund-raisers for a new football stadium on Tuesday as the Vikings announced other communities are interested in the team.

Packed Minnesota Senate committee room
A packed Minnesota Senate committee room was the scene of a committee meeting Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011, about financing a Vikings football stadium. (Don Davis, Forum Communications)

ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans from across the state sought to turn their pet projects into fund-raisers for a new football stadium on Tuesday as the Vikings announced other communities are interested in the team.

The White Earth Tribal Nation wanted a Twin Cities casino, Iron Range developers sought permission to add gambling to a race track, an Alexandria lawmaker said a video lottery could provide money and a southwest Minnesota senator promoted a downtown Minneapolis casino.

Expanded gambling was a strong theme of the five-and-a-half-hour state Senate hearing on Vikings stadium funding, but representatives of many American Indian tribes said a new Twin Cities casino would drain jobs from rural and Indian communities.

Members of the Senate Taxes and State Government committees took no action after hearing testimony from nearly 70 people, ranging from lobbyists to fanatical Vikings fans to ordinary citizens.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said that he hopes a legislative working group he helps guide will produce a bill lawmakers can consider by the end of this month or early January. Chances are, he said, it will include some form of expanded gambling to help fund a new stadium.


No surprise

For the first time in public, the Vikings admitted to senators that they have been contacted about selling the team if no stadium is built.

Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, asked Vikings vice president Lester Bagley about chances the team could move.

Bagley said the team has been contacted by two potential team owners in Los Angeles and one from another community he did not name.

"What we have told folks is that we are 100 percent focused on getting this job done in Minnesota," Bagley told senators. "We want to be here. We are doing everything we can to be here."

Later, Bagley told reporters that Vikings officials have avoided talking to any extent to other communities.

However, he added, he is not surprised that the team has received calls. With the Metrodome roof collapse a year ago, the situation became "a national issue," he said.

Chief team owner Zygi Wilf has said he would not move the team out of Minnesota, but he has not ruled out selling the team.


Hot topic

Lanning said it would take a year for a sale to go through, so the Vikings will be in the Metrodome at least one more year. However, if a stadium bill does not pass before the Jan. 24 start of the 2012 legislative session its chances will slip greatly, said the senator.

The Vikings' Metrodome lease runs out on Feb. 1, but team officials have not said what they would do if there is no stadium agreement by then.

There is little agreement on specifically how to fund a stadium, or whether to fund it at all, but, according to Lanning, "It's been clear to me for a long time that gaming has to be part of it."

Gambling was the topic for many of those who testified Tuesday.

Chairwoman Erma Vizenor of the White Earth Tribal Nation, presented the concept of allowing the tribe to build a casino near the Vikings stadium in Arden Hills, where the team prefers its new stadium. In exchange, White Earth would split its $300 million casino profits with the state.

The money would be enough to cover the state or local portion of a $1.1 billion stadium, Vizenor said. A casino also would provide about $10 million in new state sales taxes a year, she added.

Vizenor's casino plan, which would be built without state funds, suggests beginning with 150 table games and about 4,000 slot machines.


The proposal also would include a motel with up to 500 rooms.

Legislators were mixed on their reaction.

Lanning said he was curious about the proposal, but offered no commitment.

"I don't think it has any better chance than any other gambling proposal," Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbook, said.

Downtown casino

Another gambling proposal brought back up Tuesday was to allow a casino on downtown Minneapolis' Block E.

Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, sponsored a bill earlier this year to allow the casino, but it did not pass.

On Tuesday, Magnus proposed a $450 million casino that would be built with private funds, but the state would get a $150 million annual payment that could help pay stadium construction costs.


It would create 2,500 jobs in downtown Minneapolis, which Magnus said would help the economy.

Adding casinos to the state's two horse-racing tracks also was promoted, and Lanning said the so-called racino appears to have as much support as any gambling option, but would still need bipartisan support.

Lanning said that majority House Republicans cannot provide enough votes for using gambling to support a stadium.

"Every idea we have has an opponent," he said.

Lanning and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, have included legislative members from both parties in their working group that meets in private about once a week.

No one spoke Tuesday in favor of funding a stadium with money the state collects for outdoors and arts projects. That had been discussed earlier, and hallways near the meeting room Tuesday were filled with arts and outdoors supporters holding signs opposed to the concept.

A Senate lawyer said the Legislature could decide whether to use those funds, approved by voters in 2008.

"Once you start doing that, you get far away from the voter intent," said Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul. "I would doubt there would be many votes out of the DFL caucus if this is the proposal."


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