FOR VIKINGS STADIUM: White Earth pitches metro casino plan
Minnesotans from across the state sought to turn their pet projects into fund-raisers for a new football stadium on Tuesday as the Vikings said 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 southwestern Minnesota senator promoted a downtown Minneapolis casino.
Expanded gambling was a strong theme of a 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 from nearly 70 testifiers 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.
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.
"There are other communities that would like to have a team," he said, a change from Vikings officials' past practice of avoiding talking about selling or moving the team.
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.
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, the stadium bill author said, if a stadium does not pass before the Jan. 24 start of the 2012 legislative session its chances will slip greatly.
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 Lanning said: "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 Tuesday's testifiers.
Chairwoman Erma Vizenor of White Earth 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.
White Earth would build the casino without state funds. Vizenor's plan suggests beginning with 150 table games and about 4,000 slot machines.
The proposal also would include a motel with up to 500 rooms.
A Grand Casino official said the Mille Lacs band does not like the White Earth idea, lumping it in with other Twin Cities casinos that he feared would pull gamblers away from his band's two Grand Casino locations north of the Twin Cities.
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.
Former Duluth Mayor John Fedo, now a business consultant, told senators that if lawmakers allow a casino to be built at a proposed Hibbing raceway it could provide funds for a stadium.
Fedo's idea comes from a long-held dream of an Iron Range car and horse racing track. The track also would host moto-cross and all-terrain vehicle racing.
He estimated that 220 jobs would be created and the raceway would attract 73,750 visitors annually.
Fedo said the race track would not be viable without a casino.
"Northern Minnesota loves the Vikings, too," added Scott Allison, a racetrack investor.
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 said; "This is one of the option we think can help."
The $450 million casino 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.
Owners of existing tribal casinos argued against allowing new casinos.
President Victoria Winfrey of the Prairie Island Indian Community council said gamblers should not fund a Vikings stadium.
"This is a state issue and should be funded at a statewide level," she said. "Why should jobs in Goodhue County and rural Minnesota be sacrificed for a Vikings stadium?"
One in every 33 Goodhue County jobs would be lost if a new Twin Cities casino is allowed, Winfrey said.
"Tribes built their successful operations with their own money at no risk to state taxpayers," the president added.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, promoted a bill of his that went nowhere earlier this year to allow video lottery terminals in bars.
He said it would just be expanding a constitutional amendment voters passed years ago to allow the traditional lottery.
The senator said the concept would help the state with added funding, but it also would send funds to charities and it would help local businesses that would host the games.
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.
Even a racino, however, would 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."
(Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.)