Is Racino A Killer Stadium Amendment?

Executive Director Tom Barrett of the Minnesota Gambling Control Board

By Danielle Nordine and Don Davis

A Senate committee voted today to backup Vikings stadium funding by allowing horse-racing tracks to add casinos, a change the bill author said would kill the bill.

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, offered an amendment to allow so-called racinos at the state’s two horse tracks, replacing increased taxes expected from allowing electronic pulltab and bingo charitable games as a way to fund stadium construction.

Before committee members voted on the Nienow amendment, Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, got it changed to allow both the pulltab and racino expansion.

The Senate Finance Committee passed the amended amendment 11-3 before passing the full stadium bill 9-5.

The amendment could be a game-changer for the stadium plan, if it stays on the bill. However, the Senate Tax Committee is to consider the bill Thursday morning, and it can make further changes.

Bill author Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said the provision would not be acceptable to the House authors.

“It does put the bill in jeopardy because I believe we do not have the votes with racino as a primary funding source to move forward,” Rosen said, adding there might not be a bill at all if that provision remains on it.

Racinos would be for funding if pulltab and bingo games do not produce enough taxes.

The vote raises further questions about whether the bill can pass the full Legislature. Many Republicans, in particular, oppose using any gambling to fund a stadium.

Before the amendment passed, Gov. Mark Dayton repeated on Wednesday that he does not favor racino funds for a stadium because it would be tied up in court for years by American Indian tribes and others fighting a state-authorized casino.

As the Senate committee voted to include racino, key House stadium backer Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, tweeted: “I love racino, but it will kill the stadium if it’s attached. Can’t vote on it that way.”

The amendment by Nienow, who does not support the stadium bill, came during a nearly day-long committee meeting that had been expected to end by early afternoon. It added a speed bump to a bill that had been zooming through much like Adrian Peterson can break through a line.

Vikings Running back Peterson, center John Sullivan and linebacker Chad Greenway visited the Capitol Wednesday to lobby for a new stadium.

They hoped to run interference for an unexpected Thursday morning Senate Tax Committee meeting on the issue.

The bill was expected to head to the Senate floor if approved at the Finance Committee meeting today, but Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said it should go to her Tax Committee first.

Ortman, chairwoman of the Tax Committee, said the bill “contains provisions that require the consideration” of her panel.

Dayton said he still places odds of the stadium construction bill passing at 50-50, but going through an expected tough grilling in the Tax Committee does not help.

A similar stadium bill awaits a House floor debate, though it is unclear when that will be. Many have said it is time to put the question to the full House and Senate.

Several high-ranking Republicans said they do not expect GOP leaders to put the stadium bill, or a public works financing bill, up for a House or Senate vote until Democrat Dayton supports one of their priorities, such as a business tax cut. The stadium and public works are atop Dayton’s priority list.

Lawmakers hope to end this year’s legislative session Monday. Rosen said she thinks the stadium bill likely will be one of the last debated.

If the proposal passes the Legislature and is signed by Dayton, the Minneapolis City Council still must approve the plan. The council voted 7-6 Tuesday to add the stadium to its legislative agenda, symbolically showing support for the project.

“We will take this vote and build on the momentum happening at the Capitol to bring good jobs and lower property taxes to Minneapolis,” Mayor R.T. Rybak said.

Legislators are looking at ways to help St. Paul fund some of its sports facilities or pay off debt in the bill as well. Rosen’s proposal would give St. Paul $1.3 million annually for 20 years for those.

But the Finance Committee voted to remove a proposal to give St. Paul $43 million to help pay for its River Centre and Xcel Energy Center that was added in Wednesday’s jobs committee.

Rosen said many of the details of the proposal can be worked out when the Senate and House combine their versions of the bill after both chambers pass their own.

The state would put $398 million toward stadium construction of the $975 million stadium on the Metrodome site in Minneapolis. That piece would funded by allowing for electronic pulltab and bingo devices, under bills authored by Rosen and Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead. The Vikings and other private sources would contribute $427 million, while Minneapolis would add $150 million.

“We tried to keep the public out of the business of running a professional NFL team,” Chairman Ted Mondale of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission said of the financing.

A few of the Finance Committee members questioned whether gambling could cover the state’s portion of stadium funding.

But Rosen said the estimated revenues from electronic gaming are very conservative.

“We will be able to pay off our debt service at a quicker pace,” she predicted.