Will slots help Vikings get a new stadium?

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 5, 2009 - 11:17 PM

Rep.Tom Hackbarth, trying to get things started, proposes allowing slot machines at horse-racing tracks to generate funds.

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Trying to jump-start interest in a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, a Republican legislator on Monday proposed a constitutional amendment to add slot machines to the state's two horse-racing tracks and use the proceeds to build the stadium.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, said his latest plan was a "little bit of a twist" to a failed effort earlier this year for a constitutional amendment to create another casino in Minnesota and put the profits toward a stadium.

Hackbarth said his latest plan is different because "it's not an expansion of gambling," since Minnesota racing tracks already allow gambling in the form of card games.

"I don't know what else we're going to do if we don't go to gaming," said Hackbarth. He said legislative leaders were "kind of sticking their heads in the sand." The Vikings' lease expires in 2011 at the Metrodome, a venue that has been their home for more than a quarter century but which the team says is now outdated and a financial drag.

Lester Bagley, a Vikings spokesman, reacted cautiously to Hackbarth's latest proposal.

"We do appreciate that there's at least an effort to be creative," said Bagley, the team's vice president for public affairs and stadium development. Bagley said the Vikings had not spoken with Hackbarth about his newest plan.

Hackbarth, a seven-term legislator, said he had not talked to any of the other major players in the stadium debate, including legislative leaders and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns the Dome.

"I'm not sure that gaming is [the] solution," Bagley said. "I haven't seen the politics of that issue necessarily change at the Capitol."

Should Hackbarth's ideas gain political traction, Bagley said, the team would have to obtain a clear ruling from the National Football League, which has frowned on any formal links between gambling and professional football.

Brian McClung, a spokesman for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, agreed. "Generally speaking, this idea hasn't been well received at the state Capitol," he said.

Hackbarth said other states that have authorized so-called "racinos" -- horse-racing tracks that offer other forms of gambling -- have seen significant jumps in revenue.

In Pennsylvania, he said, six racinos provided $752 million in revenue last year, with the money going toward property tax relief, economic development, tourism, the horse industry and local governments.

Tribes concerned

John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Gaming Association, said that revenue from racinos in other states often failed to meet financial projections.

The association represents nine of the state's 11 Native American tribes, which have been sizable campaign contributors at the Capitol, particularly to DFLers who now control the House and Senate.

Acknowledging that Hackbarth's proposal would compete with tribal casinos, McCarthy said, "Are we concerned about it from a business perspective? Sure, of course."

Over the weekend, while appearing at a state GOP convention, Pawlenty said keeping the Vikings in Minnesota is a worthy goal but "purposely" stopped short of saying how that should occur and said the Vikings "should be looking for somebody locally to help them."

The Vikings say they have been unable to enlist a local government partner that would provide public financing for a stadium they say may cost $954 million.

With the state still recovering from the recession, Pawlenty said that a new Vikings stadium "is not something that we are going to focus on now because we've got larger issues."

Staff writer Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this article.

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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