A plan to build a new Vikings stadium has won approval in a Minnesota House committee, the first time the Vikings have formally cleared a legislative hurdle in their quest for a new home.
The Commerce committee approved both a stadium bill and a financing measure on divided voice votes.
Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, (looking at an electronic pulltab machine, above) was author of the financing mechanism for the stadium. Kriesel told his house colleagues that his charitable gambling bill would raise $52 million in gambling taxes for the state per year, and offer charitable gambling operators another $36 million in tax relief.
Kriesel’s bill proposes legalizing electronic pull tabs and sports-themed tip boards, a form of raffle connected to professional sports scores.
The latter sparked controversy Monday after Gov. Mark Dayton said he believed the tip boards were illegal under federal law.
King Wilson, head of Allied Charities of Minnesota, the state’s charitable gambling trade group defended the game, shown at right.
“I think the governor’s comments, if we were talking about sports bookmaking, I think it would fit. We think what we’ve crafted here does not fit that same area,” Wilson said.
Opponents said, legal or not, electronic pull tabs and tip boards were a bad idea for Minnesota.
Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, urged lawmakers not to expand gambling.
“Sometimes it seems like an innocuous proposal, but I think you need to step back and realize that video gambling is the most addictive form of gambling,” Prichard said. “You have a state, in a sense, preying on the people it should be supporting, encouraging them to gamble to pay for a stadium.”
The committee also passed a separate stadium bill, sponsored by Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead.
He outlined well-known parts of the deal, like the $975 million cost, with $398 million to be paid by the state and $150 up front from the city of Minneapolis. The Vikings have offered $427 million for the initial construction costs.
Lanning said charitable gambling revenues would pay for stadium bonds, and would likely exceed the $42 million initial debt service by as much as $10 million annually. He also said the excess would be put in reserve to cover any shortfalls. This could potentially avert controversial “backup” financing, like a 10 percent admissions tax or a diversion of excess Hennepin County sales taxes, beyond what’s needed to pay debt on the Twins home at Target Field.
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said the team was grateful to finally notch a victory at the Capitol. “We’re encouraged,” he said. “It’s a big step, with many more to go.”
But he also acknowledged it was a mixed result: “There are some further refinements we’d like to see,” Bagley said. “We have some concerns about asking the Vikings to be the backstop to the state or the city’s contribution.”
He also said that the NFL may not approve of the sports-related tip board, commonly tied to football games in illicit gambling. “The NFL is opposed to sports betting, and they need to look at this legislation. This proposal just arrived today, so they need to take a look at it, and respond when they get the chance to get review it.”
Stadium critic Tom Goldstein, of St. Paul, told the committee that the stadium construction wasn’t an efficient use of state investment.
“If every construction job you created cost the equivalent of $1.2 million to create, there wouldn’t be many jobs in the future,” Goldstein said. He called for the state to create more permanent jobs with the money.
Rep. Mike Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, defended spending on a stadium. “We have Depression-era unemployment. Last night I talked to a friend that hasn’t worked in 30 months, and he needs 11 months to get to a pension. It makes me mad when people talk about these short-term jobs.”
Both bills are headed next for the Rules committee. The stadium will likely have to pass the Government Operations, Taxes and Ways and Means committees in the House before it goes to the floor. A companion bill has been tabled in the Senate Local Government committee.