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Lawmakers oppose gambling for stadium funding

ST. PAUL - A coalition of legislators ranging from the most conservative to the most liberal say that using gambling funds to finance a new Vikings football stadium is a sure bet to do the state more harm than good.

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that nearly half of casino revenue comes from people with gambling problems, people whose problems often end up costing the state.

And, he warned, such a move could convince more Minnesotans to gamble because they may think that if the state can fix a budget problem with gambling money, they also could try to improve their finances with bets.

This morning's announcement of gambling opposition, which Hann said could be a majority of lawmakers, illustrates the problem state leaders face in trying to find a way to fund a stadium.

There is little agreement for a funding pathway among lawmakers. Ideas besides gambling, all of which have significant opposition, include using outdoors and cultural funds; taxing sports memorabilia; and charging a ticket tax.

Ramsey County officials want to increase the sales tax in their county to raise $350 million and the state would contribute $300 million, with team owners paying the rest of a $1.1 billion stadium.

While the Vikings want the stadium in the northern Ramsey County community of Arden Hills, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak today unveiled a trio of plans to keep the National Football League team in his city's downtown.

The Vikings say they will not renew the Metrodome lease that expires after this season and the only way they will play there next season is if they have a deal to build a new stadium.

Today's anti-gambling news conference was held by lawmakers who seldom agree on any major legislative proposal.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, spoke for his colleagues when he said that "gambling is a tax on people who are bad at math" because chances of winning are so remote.

Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said he opposes using gambling funds because "it's the wrong direction." His opposition as a rural lawmaker shows that a fellow senator's idea faces problems.

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, suggests allowing charitable gambling pull tab games to be allowed to use electronic machines. That, Bakk said, would increase spending on pull tabs and provide enough money for the state to repay money its borrows for its portion of stadium construction costs.

Bakk said that his plan would be especially attractive to rural lawmakers, whose districts include many charities that depend on pull tabs. Besides the state getting more money, the senator said his proposal would give charities more, too.

The major gambling expansion proposals are adding casinos at the one or both of the state's horse racing tracks and to open a casino in downtown Minneapolis.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said he plans announce his stadium plan on Nov. 7 and to call a special legislative session on the topic Nov. 21. However, Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci today said that Dayton would be willing to call the session earlier if lawmakers need more time to finish by Thanksgiving.