Vikings’ stadium becoming an issue that fails to go away

Last spring, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed with bipartisan support and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law a bill committing the state of Minnesota to spend $348 million as its share in constructing the $975 million new Vikings stadium.

The lawmakers decided to fund the state’s share through expanding the state’s gambling operations to electronic pulltabs. It was and is a voluntary tax. The Vikings were saved. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, plenty. First, proponents said that electronic gambling would bring far more to the state’s coffers than would be needed for the stadium. Those estimates now appear to be pie-in-the-sky.

The first electronic gaming machines were put in use in September. While it remains early in the rollout, the projections of state regulators appear far off the mark.

They anticipated that the machines would be in 2,500 sites by late October. As of last week, the electronic gaming sites were in only 140 bars.

The 2,500 site goal has now been pushed back to July, but some legislators are now thinking even that is optimistic.

Meanwhile, proponents estimated that the machines would bring in $1,400 per day per site. In the week ending Jan. 26, the average was $510, and the week before an average of only $474 came in per site.

It looks like even if the site goal is met, the revenue goal will still be far behind.

As it was, regulators had projected that statewide electronic gaming would bring in $35.2 million in 2012, but in actuality only $17.2 million came in.

The interest in electronic gaming appears to be strong in this area. Of the 140 sites now active, three in Central Minnesota are in the top 10. Shipwrex in Burtum, sponsored by the Grey Eagle Burtrum Lions Club ranks number 4, grossing an average of $1,833.52 and netting $273.38 per day. Howie’s Sports Bar and Grill in St. Cloud, sponsored by the St. Cloud Youth Hockey Association, ranks seventh, grossing $1,656.40 and netting $283.13 per day. KCs Saloon in Pillager, sponsored by the Pillager Lions Club, ranks eighth, grossing $1,533.40 and netting $164.59 per day.

While we didn’t want the Vikings to leave Minnesota, we were never a big fan of state funding of the new stadium. Now it is beginning to look like one of those issues that never goes away.