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The Minnesota Vikings released this drawing of how they see a game day looking at a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Courtesy photo

Minnesota Vikings stadium bill finally moves ahead

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ST. PAUL -- A Vikings stadium construction proposal took its biggest step forward ever Monday night when a House committee approved the nearly $1 billion plan.

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After a decade of discussion about whether to build a new stadium, the House commerce committee decided on a split voice vote to advance the plan.

Since the bill missed a legislative deadline, the House Rules Committee now must give it special permission for more committee hearings if it is to remain alive.

The panel also approved a funding plan in a separate bill. A similar stadium bill is stalled in a Senate committee.

The stadium bill still faces concerns, including one by Gov. Mark Dayton who said part of the funding package could violate federal law.

The commerce committee considered two stadium-related bills, one by Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, to build a stadium and another by Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, to provide funding.

Repaying money borrowed for construction is expected to cost $42 million a year and Kriesel said his bill would provide the state $52 million.

Funds come from allowing electronic devices to be used along with traditional paper pull tab and bingo games, which charities said would increase the number of players. Kriesel also would allow sports-themed tip boards, a gambling game that is not based on who wins a game, but the game's score.

Kriesel's bill would increase charities' take from gambling by $36 million annually.

Some legislators have said they fear electronic gambling devices could fall short of revenue estimates, so Lanning included four backup funding sources that could raise up to $10 million annually if needed:

- 10 percent tax on stadium luxury boxes and suites.

- A sports-themed lottery game.

- Redirecting existing Hennepin County taxes now going to the Twins' Target Field.

- Admission surcharge on people attending games.

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said the team opposes the surcharge and tax on boxes and suites. The Hennepin County board chairman said he questions the portion that affects his county's taxes.

Lanning added the backup funding Monday to his original bill. Kriesel said he wrote his bill to clarify funding.

Dayton said that while revising the proposal and getting a committee hearing were "very positive steps," he was not happy being blindsided with news that Lanning had a new plan. He and Lanning plan to meet today.

The governor said Kriesel's tip board proposal may violate federal law.

Four states were allowed to keep existing tip board games when federal law began to forbid most sports betting, Dayton said. Federal officials added North Dakota later, but the governor said it remains illegal in other states.

King Wilson of Allied Charities, a statewide group of charities that sponsor fund-raising gambling, said the way the bill is drafted, it should be legal.

"It is not sports bookmaking, it does not matter who wins and who loses," Wilson said.

Several states' sports tip board provisions are being challenged in court.

The Vikings say the Metrodome, their home for three decades, does not provide enough opportunity to make money. The team's lease expired Feb. 1, but it is too late to move or sell the team before next season.

The Lanning bill gives the state a $398 million stadium-construction obligation. The Vikings would pay $427 million and Minneapolis $150 million toward the nearly $1 billion downtown Minneapolis stadium.

The Senate bill stalled in committee without a vote does not include backup funding plans or tip boards.

Lanning's bill requires the stadium to host non-Vikings events, like the Metrodome does now.

"Please remember all of the other things that happen in the Metrodome in the course of a year," Lanning said.

Lanning said there is "a very real possibility" of the Vikings leaving Minnesota if it does not get a new stadium. He reminded committee members that the team alone pays $20 million in income taxes to the state each year.

Danielle Nordine and Don Davis report 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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