ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday downplayed the sluggish start of a statewide gambling initiative being counted on to help fund the new Minnesota Vikings stadium, saying doesn't plan to redo the financing package during the upcoming legislative session.
Dayton told reporters the early revenue projections are worth watching but shouldn't cause alarm about the merits of the electronic terminals that are only starting to appear in bars and restaurants. Relatively few establishments now offer the iPad-style machines that patrons to play low-stakes games, but the availability has as much to do with vendors working to clear regulatory hurdles.
The bill to finance a $975 million stadium that will be built in downtown Minneapolis won approval last spring. The legislation authorized electronic pull-tab and linked bingo games, making Minnesota the first state to permit that form of gambling statewide.
The novelty of the games and the challenges of constructing a new gambling system from the ground up take time, Dayton said in arguing against revisiting the financing plan next year.
"I certainly wouldn't favor it unless it becomes absolutely necessary and I don't think it is at this point," Dayton said.
Republican state Sen. Julie Rosen, who sponsored the stadium plan, also warned against jumping to early conclusions. She said she favors a public relations campaign to market the games to the public before dwelling on whether an alternative money source is needed.
"It's too early to do anything to correct it," Rosen said. "Let the entire program work like it should."
Since September, one company has been cleared to provide terminals but others are in the pipeline. Others potential vendors have background checks pending or are hanging back to see how robust the Minnesota market is.
That's meant the proceeds flowing to a special account don't come close to the benchmarks established when the bill was approved. The projected tax revenue had been $34 million, but this week state finance officials trimmed it to $16 million. Expected revenue for future years has also been scaled back a bit.
The state is depending on the expanded gambling to pay off debt from its $348 million share. The city of Minneapolis and Vikings owners are coming up with the rest. Aside from the stadium, a portion of the new gambling money goes to the charitable organizations that sponsor the games in bars and restaurants.
The governor plans to meet next week with his revenue commissioner and the top gambling regulator to determine future steps.
The Vikings hope to break ground next year after environmental reviews are complete. If all goes as planned, the stadium would be ready for the 2016 season.
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