Minnesota: Sports betting bill introduced at Legislature with support from tribes, teams

Sports betting legalization is back on the agenda of the Minnesota Legislature, with advocates having expressed hope on Tuesday that they will find the votes to get a plan through the state Senate. While previous efforts to regulate the market failed, proponents are confident that this time around the Democratic proposal, introduced Monday, will face better luck

Under the proposed legislation, the state’s Indigenous tribes would be in control of retail wagering at their casino, as well as of statewide remote betting via mobile devices. Similarly to a bill that passed the state House last year, Minnesota’s two horse tracks and other venues would be shut out of the new gaming vertical.

This year, the bill has the support of an alliance formed by a trade group for tribal casinos and six major league sports teams. While the plan had some Republican support in the Democratic-controlled House last session, it stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate. Although support and opposition don’t break cleanly along party lines, supporters hope the new Senate Democratic majority will make the difference for the renewed effort.

“More than 30 states, including all of Minnesota’s neighbors, have legalized sports betting in some form or fashion,” the lead House author, Democratic Rep. Zack Stephenson, of Coon Rapids, said at a news conference, as reported by Associated Press. “Minnesotans deserve the same opportunities that our neighbors have.”

Zack Stephenson

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association expressed its support in a statement: “Were your bill to become law, MIGA Tribes believe the resulting mobile and retail markets operated by Minnesota’s Tribal Nations would not only support Tribes, but would also provide a well-regulated and accessible market for the state’s sports bettors and a competitive market that is important to our state’s professional sports teams and market partners.” 

Meanwhile, the sports teams coalition added it was “happy to report” that the state’s pro franchises, including the Loons, Timberwolves/Lynx, Twins, Wild, and Vikings, have come to an agreement with the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association in support of the draft sports betting bill that has been introduced to the House of Representatives during the current session.

The state’s cut from the activity would be 10% of the net wagers online and on mobile devices, raising an estimated $10 million to $12 million for regulation and consumer protection, programs for problem gamblers and for youth sports with an emphasis on communities with high levels of juvenile crime. Wagers placed in person at tribal casinos would not be subject to state tax.

“We’re not doing this to raise revenue for the state of Minnesota, we’re doing this in order to transition from an … illicit market into a legitimate market and to put guardrails on the activity,” Stephenson said, as per the cited source. However, the proposal still has a long way to go before becoming law, needing to clear several committees in both the House and Senate, and Stephenson said he does not expect floor votes anytime soon.

The plan needs 34 votes to pass the bill in the Senate, where Democrats hold just a one-seat majority. Stephenson said proponents chose to exclude the Canterbury Park and Running Aces horse racing tracks because the tribal casinos have “the most experience” running gaming operations and because they operate across Minnesota. Moreover, he pointed out that there probably aren’t enough votes to pass the bill in the House unless it’s exclusive to the tribes.

Republican Sen. Jeremy Miller, of Winona, has proposed an alternative approach that would let the two tracks operate sports betting, and allow pro sports teams to offer it at their stadiums and arenas. The state’s cut also would be 10%, but the proceeds would be distributed more widely. Money would also go to tax relief for charitable gambling operations that offer pull tabs, and for attracting major sporting events to Minnesota.

AP points out Miller told reporters he thinks it’s great that two of the three major stakeholders — the tribes and the teams — are now allied but that he still thinks the tracks should be included. He said he doesn’t think there are enough votes to pass it in the Senate “without something for the tracks,” and that it won’t get bipartisan support if they’re left out.