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Minnesota Vikings have stadium; state must raise the money

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Now that the Minnesota Vikings will get their new stadium, the worrying can begin over a gambling expansion designed to pay the state's share of the $975 million project.

By passing the final stadium bill Thursday, lawmakers committed the state to raising $348 million by allowing electronic pull-tabs and bingo in bars and restaurants. The financing plan drew skepticism on the bill's way through the Legislature, prompting the sponsors to include backup measures in case the pull-tab dollars don't materialize, including a lottery game and luxury suite taxes.

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Gov. Mark Dayton has pledged to sign the stadium bill into law after serving as its chief cheerleader. Backers pushed it through the Legislature after years of failed attempts, despite opposition from no-new-spending Republicans, liberal Democrats and even the top House Republican, Speaker Kurt Zellers.

Dayton publicly thanked owners Zygi and Mark Wilf for agreeing to a $50 million bump in their share in final negotiations this week.

"Without your willingness to take that last step, we wouldn't have crossed the goal line," the governor said.

But money questions were on the sidelines Thursday as Vikings fans celebrated the bill's passage. In the Senate gallery, fans broke out in a rendition of the "Skol Vikings!" fight song, earning a reprimand from the Senate secretary.

The new stadium will be built on the downtown Minneapolis site of the 30-year-old Metrodome.

The stadium project -- with 51 percent of the construction cost covered by taxpayers -- comes after years of state deficits and spending cuts to schools, health care and other programs. The state is currently in the black, but a $1 billion-plus deficit is projected for the two-year budget that starts in mid-2013.

"When this doesn't work, it's money right out of schools, right out of welfare, right out of health care, right out of you name it -- everything we spend money on," said Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, before he cast a vote against the project.

Opponents on both sides of the political spectrum predicted that the state is likely to further expand gambling if the electronic pull-tabs -- now just a low-tech paper game offered in bars and restaurants -- don't bring in enough money.

"They'll want to double down on the bad deal. We've created a monster here," said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, leader of the conservative faction within the GOP Senate caucus.

The bill envisions the new electronic games bringing in $59 million a year in tax revenue by 2014. But if tax collections end up being lower, a sports-themed lottery game and a 10 percent suite tax would kick in. Together the two measures would raise $4 million a year, Magnus said.

Over the long term, supporters also expect the stadium to be a good deal for the state. Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul, said he expects the return on the state's investment to be substantial over time. The Metrodome was built for $55 million, including $33 million in public money, and ended up bringing in hundreds of millions in tax revenue over the past three decades.

The Vikings intend to take advantage of an NFL loan program, sell naming rights and possibly impose seat license fees to help cover the team's end of construction costs. They will be bound by a 30-year lease on the stadium and pay about $13 million a year in operating fees. Minneapolis will kick in about $7 million a year for operating costs, and a public authority will have the power to rent the stadium on non-game days for concerts, conventions and special events.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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