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Lawmakers align against gambling for Viking stadium

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A cadre of Minnesota legislators opposed to putting public money into a deal for a new Vikings stadium acknowledged Thursday they'd let the team flee the state rather than let themselves be strong-armed into cutting a deal at any price.

City leaders in Minneapolis, meanwhile, were ready to detail how they would come up with a local share to keep the team from bolting for the suburbs — or beyond.

All of it comes as Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's self-imposed deadline for crafting a stadium plan approaches. He hopes to call lawmakers into special session before Thanksgiving to vote on hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies.

The Vikings have four games remaining on their Metrodome lease, and have made it clear that they won't re-up without assurances that a new stadium will get built. Team owner Zygi Wilf has stopped short of threatening to leave the state, but other cities craving an NFL franchise are paying attention.

"We don't want them to leave, but if they're going to leave I guess that is going to happen," said Sen. David Hann, a Republican who led a news conference by a bipartisan group of lawmakers fighting efforts to expand gambling to help pay for a new stadium. The lawmakers said their opposition extends to using all forms of taxpayer money.

Added GOP Sen. Dave Thompson, an assistant majority leader: "I have to do what I believe is right. I wouldn't be making the Vikings leave. It would be the ownership of the Vikings making a decision to leave if they do and the NFL allowing them because they don't get what they want."

Wilf prefers a suburban Ramsey County site that could result in a price tag topping $1 billion, with half or more coming from state or local revenue streams.

On Thursday, Dayton got an aerial tour of the Arden Hills site, a former Army munitions plant. But he hasn't taken sides on where the stadium should be.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak planned to release new details later in the day about the city's financing plan. City council members have been cool to a proposed sales tax he floated earlier.

Republicans who run the Legislature are also resisting the idea of new taxes. Some want the state to siphon money from a cultural legacy account fed by constitutionally dedicated sales tax proceeds; they argue the team is a critical part of the state's heritage. Dayton said Wednesday he was open to the idea, but arts groups and others are aligning to fight it.

Another financing possibility is a downtown Minneapolis casino that developers have promoting for months. Minnesota is home to several tribal casinos but has long resisted allowing private casino developers into the mix. It's not the only gambling option in play. Other stadium supporters are pushing to allow slot machines at horse tracks or electronic gambling terminals in bars.

The added focus on gambling as a funding method to back stadium bonds brought an eclectic mix of opponents from both political parties together. They said the money stream is too risky, depends too heavily on problem gamblers and carries social costs such as higher crime.

"We really have the marriage of two bad ideas here: public funding for a stadium and that funding coming from gambling," said Democratic Rep. Frank Hornstein.

Stadium backer Cory Merrifield of said the gambling opponents were off the mark.

"You can walk into any gas station in Minnesota and gamble via scratch-offs. You can turn on any computer anywhere in Minnesota and gamble online via poker, fantasy football and online sports books," he said.

Dayton and GOP leaders are due to meet privately Friday to discuss the next steps.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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