Gambling on football: How the Block E Casino might build the Vikings stadium

Want this stadium? Fine, just keep dumping quarters in that slot machine.
Want this stadium? Fine, just keep dumping quarters in that slot machine.

As of this morning, Minneapolis is a city with one professional football team, and zero casinos. Some day soon, that could be the other way around.

The new push for a special session to finance the Vikings stadium in Arden Hills has taken a turn, with Republican legislators throwing their support behind a casino at the Block E site downtown. Now, instead of just shoring up the state's already-damaged finances, Minnesota's gambling tax revenues would be fed into the $300 million costs of the stadium.

Mark Dayton, suddenly the busiest man in the state, spoke behind closed doors with Republican legislators on Monday and Tuesday, and then had dual meetings yesterday with Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and Alatus LLC, the group pushing for the downtown casino site.

Dayton won't release his own plan for the stadium until early next month, but early speculation has it that the governor might let the city bring in gambling in place of its current vice: rooting for a bad team in an ugly stadium.

To be sure, there are only about 99 things that need to fall into place for this plan to work. But Republicans, who've expressed skepticism about earlier proposals, are voicing support for the casino plan.

The proposed Block E Casino might send your money right to Zygi Wilf.
The proposed Block E Casino might send your money right to Zygi Wilf.

Representative John Kriesel, an ardent Vikings fan last heard from in his Twitter argument with wide receiver Bernard Berrian, told the Business Journal that taxing revenues from the Block E casino is a good way to keep the Vikings in the state, if not the city itself.

"Whether it's built in Arden Hills or Minneapolis, [the casino] is a very reasonable way to fund the stadium," he said.

Tuesday's meeting between Dayton and Republican lawmakers focused specifically on the casino-for-football concept, Representative Tom Hackbarth told Minnesota Public Radio. Democrat Tom Bakk, the Senate minority leader, was less enthusiastic, saying a casino is not a necessary element to the plan, which calls for annual payments of $23 million from the state.

"There's a number of ways that you can cobble together $23 million a year," Bakk told MPR.

Yes, Tom, but are any of them as fun as gambling? "Come on, seven, Minnesota needs a new pair of handicap-accessible wheelchair ramps!"

For his part, Dayton is publicly noncommittal about the casino plan, and says his own method of financing and building the stadium will come out between now and his self-generated deadline of November 7. But, as the Pioneer Press reports, Dayton issued an ominous warning after exiting his meetings yesterday.

"At the end of the day," Dayton told reporters, "if there aren't 68 votes in the House and 34 votes in the Senate, there's no Advertisement stadium and the very real possibility, I would say likelihood, that the Vikings will leave."

Meanwhile, no one is proposing the most obvious, thrifty plan: We open the casino; Minnesota loans Mark Dayton $150 million; Mark Dayton and Zygi Wilf play no-limit Texas Hold 'Em; if Dayton wins, there's our $300 million right there. Thanks for playing, Zygi.

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