Nov 5, 2021 - Politics

Push to legalize sports betting gains support in Minnesota Legislature

Legality of sports betting in the U.S.
Note: Minnesota bills that failed to pass this year can still be considered without needing reintroduction in 2022. Data: American Gaming Association; Map: Thomas Oide/Axios

The push to legalize sports betting in Minnesota is picking up again.

Driving the news: DFL state Rep. Zack Stephenson, who chairs the House Commerce Committee, announced Thursday that he intends to introduce a sports betting bill when lawmakers return to St. Paul early next year.

Why it matters: Support from a key committee chair in the DFL-led House could create momentum toward a deal.

  • "It is progress they're talking about it," said Republican Sen. Roger Chamberlain, who plans to revive his own effort.

The big picture: More than 30 states, including all four of Minnesota's neighbors, have legalized sports betting, per the American Gaming Association. Supporters say the lack of legal options here drives Minnesotans to other states — or the black market online.

  • "Minnesota shouldn't be an island, one of an ever shrinking number of states that doesn't allow sports betting," Stephenson said.

Between the lines: Even with bipartisan support, any deal would likely need backing of Minnesota's politically influential Native American tribes to pass the Legislature and get a signature from DFL Gov. Tim Walz.

  • They opposed past efforts. But Minnesota Indian Gaming Association executive director Andy Platto said in a statement Thursday that tribal governments have been researching the issue and its impacts on the Native community and "stand ready to share this expertise with lawmakers."
  • "I think it's safe to say I wouldn't be standing before you today if I didn't think there was a way that we can get a policy together that works for very broad segments," Stephenson said when asked whether tribes were on board.

What to expect: Stephenson hasn't come up with details for his bill yet, but said he thinks lawmakers should "walk before we should run in that we should be cautious" in making what he called a "momentous change."

  • Translation? Expect the proposal to focus on green-lighting in-person betting at existing brick-and-mortar sites, such as tribal casinos, versus online, at least to start.
  • Chamberlain's bill, meanwhile, would allow the state's two horse racing tracks and 21 tribal casinos to offer sports wagering via mobile apps, too.

What to watch: Former State Senate Leader Paul Gazelka opposed advancing past proposals, but the Senate's new leader, GOP Sen. Jeremy Miller of Winona, is a cosponsor of an existing bill to establish legal sports betting.

  • Chamberlain said that change "makes it a little easier to move forward."

The bottom line: Proponents see signs that support is growing and a deal could be reached sooner rather than later.

  • "I would go as far as to say it's a slam dunk," said GOP Rep. Pat Garofalo, who's sponsored in-person sports gambling bills since 2019. "If I was a betting man, and I'm a betting man, I would say Minnesotans should count on being a heavy favorite to legalize sports betting in the coming legislative session."

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