Highlighting a strong divide in the Republican Party, group of GOP legislators spoke out strongly against a proposed expansion of charitable gambling to pay for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.
About a half-dozen legislators outlined their doubts Thursday that new charitable gambling would bring in enough money to pay the state's $398 million share of a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis.
“This project is based on some very sketchy assumptions,” said state Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.
Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, said he
will introduce an amendment that would pay the state’s share through an income tax hike on players and a menu of other stadium-related tax increases.
Republicans have fought hard against tax hikes and none of his fellow Republicans rushed to embrace his plan publicly.
Benson said there’s still time to retool the stadium deal, despite its seeming breakaway speed at the Capitol this week.
“The Vikings are not going anywhere in the next several months,” Benson said.
Insisting he wants to the team to stay in Minnesota, Benson said his amendment is designed to "start a conversation" about other ways to pay for a stadium.
Benson and Hann doubt that allowing electronic pull-tabs, bingo and sports-related tip boards will pay the state’s $42 million a year debt payment for the new stadium. They say Minnesota restaurants and bars would need to add 25,000 of the devises and run them around the clock to meet the state’s estimates.
“As a society, we need to ask ourselves if we really want to introduce a whole new generation of Minnesotans to the addiction of gambling,” Benson said.
State budget experts have concluded the current financing plan would be more than adequate to pay the state’s share of the stadium.
Benson and Hann represent a powerful faction of Republicans firmly opposed to gambling expansion, whether it is for charity, adding slots at horse-racing tracks or allowing casino-style gambling outside Native American reservations.
Many Republicans have become more open to the idea, saying everyone should be free to decide how to spend their recreational money. Others are determined to break up the tribal gambling monopolies.
"Everybody has to suck it up and get it passed," Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said in an interview. "My constituents are saying pass this thing, and do whatever it takes, short of having it come out of our pockets."