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Gambling proposal brings Vikings stadium talks back to life

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The drive by the Minnesota Vikings to line up state money toward building a new football stadium regained momentum Thursday, just several hours after it seemed to fall apart for the year.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who a day earlier had proclaimed the effort in "limbo," met with state lawmakers who support the stadium subsidy. The team's lead allies in the House and Senate said they would introduce a detailed stadium proposal soon -- with tax proceeds from some type of gambling expansion as the likeliest chief funding source -- then air it in public hearings, with a goal of passing a plan before the regular legislative session starts in late January.

"I would hope this would all be wrapped up and put away and done, and in a bipartisan spirit, before session starts," said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the lead Senate supporter. Dayton said he'd let lawmakers take the lead on the issue for now; despite Rosen's optimism, House Speaker Kurt Zellers reaffirmed in an interview on WCCO-AM that he was not in favor of a stadium session.

Rosen and her House colleague, Rep. Morrie Lanning, said the main sticking point to introducing a stadium bill is nailing down funding sources. Dayton and lawmakers have agreed to not use any state general fund dollars, and the prospect of participation from a local government host site went out the window earlier in the week because too few lawmakers opposed exempting such participation from a voter referendum.

That leaves the Vikings' preferred approach, a $1.1 billion stadium in a suburban area north of the Twin Cities, lacking a $350 million chunk that the prospective Ramsey County hosts promised to raise via a half-cent sales tax increase. Three other sites in downtown Minneapolis are also under consideration. The Vikings have committed to spending $407 million and possibly more on the site in Arden Hills, which team owners prefer over the Minneapolis options.

The Vikings have sought a replacement for the Metrodome for most of the last decade, saying the downtown Minneapolis venue is no longer sufficiently profitable. Team officials have refrained from directly threatening to leave Minnesota if they don't get a new stadium, but Dayton and other supporters have said they take such a scenario seriously.

Dayton has said recently that gambling tax revenue looks like the best source to help fund a new stadium, specifically singling out electronic pull-tabs -- an updated version of an old game of chance played in the state's bars and restaurants. The Minnesota charities that profit from pull-tabs, along with the eating and drinking establishments that host them, have sought for several years the authorization to upgrade to the more slot machine-like electronic tabs.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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