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Electronic lottery, bingo, pulltabs under discussion for stadium funds

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ST. PAUL -- There appears to be a feeling that gambling is at least part of the answer to funding a new Vikings football stadium, but the questions come down to what kind of gambling and who benefits?

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Those who push modernizing existing games say the Vikings, the state, local charities and small businesses all would come out winners.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said everyone would benefit from his idea to allow businesses like bars and restaurants to sell lottery tickets via electronic devices that resemble slot machines.

King Wilson, who leads a coalition of the state's charities that benefit from pulltabs and bingo, said the same thing about his proposal to allow those games to go electronic.

Supporters of the two proposals say electronic devices would attract new gamblers, especially younger ones. The proposals compete with each other, but legislators eventually could combine them into one stadium funding plan, perhaps with other aspects included as well.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said it appears gambling will be part of any funding solution as the Vikings want to build a $1.1 billion facility in northern Ramsey County.

House Republicans, whom he knows best, seem to favor allowing the state's two horse-racing tracks to add casinos, Lanning said. But since some Republicans oppose any new gambling, Democrats will need to participate in a solution, and few of them support the so-called racinos.

The state's top Democrat, Gov. Mark Dayton, has said for weeks that he leans toward the electronic pulltabs because the concept appears to have the best support across the legislative spectrum.

The governor said that he likes not only money coming to the state for a stadium, but the fact that charities would benefit, too.

On the other hand, gambling is divisive.

"We have taken a controversial issue, stadiums, and added another controversial issue, gaming," warned Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina.

Of the $1.1 billion stadium construction cost, Vikings owners have pledged $425 million, if the facility goes to Ramsey County. If Dayton and lawmakers decide it will be built elsewhere, the donation will shrink.

What the Vikings do not pay, state and local officials must find if a stadium is to be built. That is where gambling comes in because all proposals cut the state in for some of the profits.

Ingebrigtsen's proposal would, as he puts it, simply allow existing lottery games to be sold electronically and require a charity to receive profits from the five machines a bar would be allowed. Instead of a slot machine that randomly picks winners, electronic lottery machines would contain thousands of printed tickets, dispensed in order like happens now.

The Tavern League of Minnesota, which represents bars, estimates the state would get $92 million more a year from the electronic lottery. Under the state Constitution, some would go to natural resources programs, but $55 million would be available for stadium or other uses.

On top of that, new gamblers would send an average of $22,000 more a year to each charity that sponsors a game, Ingebrigtsen said, and local businesses that host the games would get an average $54,000 boost in profits.

The state Revenue Department estimates that if electronic pulltabs and bingo were legalized, the state could collect $72 million more a year.

"We believe there will be more people playing," Wilson said of electronic pulltabs and bingo.

Sen. Katie Sieben said she likes the idea of expanded charitable gaming through e-pulltabs. Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, said that potential funding source had the most support from service organizations in her southeast Twin Cities district.

"More of the money stays locally and benefits our veterans' groups and local charitable organizations," Sieben said of the pulltab idea, stopping short of giving it a full endorsement.

The proposal calls for electronic bingo in 1,500 sites and pulltabs in 2,500 sites, each of which would have a local charity that benefits.

Ingebrigtsen likes his video lottery proposal because it helps bars and other businesses that lost customers after the state lowered blood-alcohol content for drunken driving and outlawed smoking in bars and restaurants.

"Everybody can benefit from it," he said.

Scott Wente of the South Washington County Bulletin contributed to this story. Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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