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Minnesota Legislature begins final push on legal sports betting, but deadline nears

The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, May 19, advanced a betting bill toward a vote of the full Senate, but with a key disagreement with the House on which groups should be able to run mobile and in-person sports betting in Minnesota, it remains uncertain if the chambers will be able to reach a deal by late Sunday night — the deadline to pass any bills.

Chamberlain 5-19
Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, addresses reporters Thursday, May 19, at the Minnesota Capitol on the status of legal sports betting legislation and a K-12 omnibus bill.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — The odds of sports betting becoming legal in Minnesota got a small boost late this week after the Senate took up its proposal on the issue with just days left for the Legislature to finish its business — though a significant hurdle remains.

The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, May 19, advanced a betting bill toward a vote of the full Senate, but with a key disagreement with the House on which groups should be able to run mobile and in-person sports betting in Minnesota, it remains uncertain if the chambers will be able to reach a deal by late Sunday night, the deadline to pass any bills.

Minnesota is surrounded by states that allow legal sports betting in some form, and more than 30 states have legalized it since 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a federal law banning the practice.

The House version of legal sports betting legislation passed last week would allow the state’s 11 tribes to provide betting services, something the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association said is a must for any bill. The Senate version allows two horse racing tracks in the Twin Cities metropolitan area to host sports betting in addition to the tribes.

Gov. Tim Walz has said he would only sign a legal sports betting bill if it has tribal support, and MIGA on Wednesday spelled out its opposition to expanding privileges beyond the tribes in a statement to the Senate finance committee.

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“MIGA has consistently opposed the expansion of non-tribal commercial gaming and will continue to do so,” the group’s executive director Andy Platto said. “This opposition seeks to protect the gaming industry that today serves as the essential tax base tribal governments and communities rely on.”

Senate sports betting bill sponsor Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, still appeared unwilling to negotiate on the horse tracks issue when speaking with reporters Thursday afternoon at the Capitol. His concerns? Encouraging competition between providers and that exclusively tribal-run sports betting could potentially hurt the horse track business.

“We're very happy to help protect the tribe business model, always have been, always been willing to do that,” he said. “But we cannot allow exclusivity in this case, simply because it won't be a good product.”

The Senate sports betting proposal and the House bill sponsored by Reps. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, and Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, are largely similar pieces of legislation barring a key difference on tribal exclusivity. Both call for the state to direct the modest tax revenues expected from sports betting toward state programs, including gambling addiction treatment.

Throughout the process, this session, lawmakers who support legal sports betting have said their aim is to ensure an already widespread practice is brought out of the black market in the state. Tax revenues from sports betting are expected to be modest — Chamberlain estimates the state will bring in $10-20 million in a good year.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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