Betting on the Vikings

Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak has rolled out the most extensive plan to date for keeping the Minnesota Vikings in his city.

It looks a lot like the plan he and city council president Barb Johnson rolled out in May, with a key difference: Rybak tacked a Block E casino onto the idea.

He says he wants a .35 percent sales tax and a one percent hotel tax for a contribution up to $300 million for a Vikings stadium, and another $150 million for the city-owned Target Center.

But he’d also like to take a 5 percent cut of the Hennepin Avenue casino proposed by developer Bob Lux. (That percent would drop to 3 in 2020, after some of Minneapolis’ other debt is retired.)

Rybak_Olson_123009_008.jpgRybak talked like a reluctant convert to gambling expansion, but a convert he appears to be, if this account of a 2009 legislative fundraiser during his erstwhile gubernatorial campaign is accurate.

Ironically enough, it addresses both of the matters at hand — new gambling and a Vikings stadium. The post (with typos fixed) is by now-retired Bemidji Pioneer political editor Brad Swenson:

In the crowd were Leech Lake Tribal Chairman Archie LaRose and Tribal Councilor Eugene “Ribs” Whitebird. Also attending was John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association.

“I want to know how you stand on the Indian gaming issue,” Whitebird asked Rybak when he took questions after making remarks about his gubernatorial bid. “Are you willing to support our tribes, not only Leech Lake, but the other tribes?”

All belong to MIGA, which opposes the expansion of gaming beyond that granted by compact with the state of Minnesota exclusively to the state’s American Indian tribes.

“Will you support us in not letting gambling into the bars?” Whitebird asked.

“I’ve always opposed the expansion of gambling,” Rybak said.

If a bill was passed by the Legislature — which is attempted each session — to allow video gaming in bars, would you veto it? Whitebird pressed.

“I oppose any expansion of gambling in this state,” Rybak returned.

And Whitebird took another angle, asking Rybak if he supports public funding for a new Vikings football stadium. One way to finance it is through the expansion of gambling. “I’m interested in protecting our gaming interests, and ask the state to leave our gaming alone,” he said.

“I support a Vikings stadium,” Rybak said. “I think the highest priorities we have are health care, schools and transportation… When you get issues like Viking stadiums often what happens is people will come up will all sorts of clever ideas to fund them, and that’s great. I’m going to work on that, too. But if we do that, we should tie together the others. If we can fund a Vikings stadium, we sure as heck can fix our schools, we sure as heck can fix our infrastructure.”

Hindsight is always 20-20, of course, and Rybak never got the opportunity to take a position on the matter from the governor’s office. Or even as the DFL endorsee, for that matter, despite any appreciation he might have won for his gambling position.

Best wishes, by the way, to Mr. Swenson. He retired in August after breaking his leg earlier this year. Sadly, he said — from his hospital bed at Sanford Health in Fargo this morning — that he broke it again in therapy yesterday. He’s going to be operated on again this afternoon.

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