Lagging Vikings stadium funds concern lawmakers

9:21 PM, Jan 16, 2013   |    comments
Stadium concept by HKS Architects
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - State Rep. Joe Atkins Wednesday compared electronic pull-tab gaming machines to the Vikings' starting quarterback.

"Electronic pull-tabs right now are kind of like the Christian Ponder of state funding," Rep. Atkins, a South St. Paul Democrat, told KARE.

The machines were legalized as part of the Vikings Stadium legislation, and are expected to generate enough revenue to repay the bonds issued to cover the State's $350 million share of the stadium.

"We start out with real promising, big hopes. We just don't know what the future's going to hold."

Atkins, as head of the House Commerce Committee, was concerned enough to convene a hearing seeking answers, after news that the gaming devices aren't living up to their billing when it comes to generating revenue for the State.

The early projections were that the machines would reap $100 million dollars in monthly revenue, with $34 million going to repay debt on the stadium bonds.  That forecast has been dialed back substantially after a slow start.

The gaming devices, which were launched on September 18 in Minnesota, had racked up only $4 million in gross sales by the end of 2012, according to the MN Dept. of Revenue.

The bars and restaurants that sell traditional paper pull-tabs for charities have taken a very cautious approach toward the new technology.   In fact, as of January there were only 386 pull-tab devices at 120 sites across the state.

The original projections were based on the assumption that 15,000 games at 2,500 sites around Minnesota by the the fall of 2012. Matt Massman, the Deputy Commissioner of Revenue, told the committee he still thinks 2,500 is a realistic total by July 1.

The executive director of the Minnesota Gambling Control Board, Tom Barrett, testified that six licensed game distributors have already been approved.  Three additional machine manufacturers have applied to participate in the program.

Some bar owners have complained that the start-up costs are prohibitive, while others are waiting to see how others fare before taking the plunge.  Barrett said the charities have spent only $500 advertising the games to potential patrons.

Atkins said if the legislature is going to be forced to revamp the stadium financing bill, they're rather know before the session ends while there's still time to act.

"If electronic pull-tabs don't bring in the sorts of revenues we'd expect, then there's a whole series of backup revenues we'd look to, none of which are that appetizing compared to the pull-tabs."

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