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Minnesota Dragging Its Heels on Legal Sports Betting

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Minnesota Dragging Its Heels on Legal Sports Betting
Bettors play slot machines. Mark Makela/Getty Images/AFP

The subject of legal sports betting in the state of Minnesota will take another swing. News out of the North Star State has some legislators undeterred by the state’s traditional slow walk of policy changes and the traditional opposition to the expansion of a legal gambling platform. They want to make a splash soon.

State Sen. Karla Bigham (D-Cottage Grove) raised the hopes on legal sports betting proponents last Thursday with one simple tweet that read: “I will soon be introducing legislation to legalize sports wagering here in Minnesota! Stay tuned! More to come!” While that singular tweet increased optimism that something would get done for Minnesota bettors, history says that her sentiment may just be noise, with little hope of it coming to fruition.

Bigham went on to say: “Sports wagering is flagrantly done publicly by myself and others but it is not legal. So why criminalize it. Let’s shine some light on it, let’s put some parameters around it and if the state makes a buck or two along the way, good for us.”

A Little Background Into the Minnesota Scene

Legalized sports betting in the state of Minnesota has been a tough ask since the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the spring of 2018 that cleared the way for states to legalize sports gambling. 25 states and the District of Columbia have since launched their own platforms, but Minnesota legislators haven’t been able to capture any momentum toward legalization.

In fact, the subject hasn’t even been able to get recognized on either floor of the Minnesota legislature, despite many attempts to do so. To say that there is little appetite among lawmakers in the state is an understatement.

“I love Minnesota. I’ve lived here my whole life. I just don’t know why we have to be the 45th or 46th state to do everything,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, who has sponsored several bills to legalize sports betting since 2018. “Our government can’t do anything quickly. We couldn’t get rid of regulation for 3.2 beer. We just recently allowed Sunday liquor sales. It’s a perpetual unwillingness to let adults act like adults.”

It Isn’t Just Legislators That Are Opposed

Minnesota’s tribal nations have been stood in opposition to legalized sports betting. The tribes of the state haven’t been able to recognize a ton of financial upside just yet, and they are cognisant of keeping gambling out of the hands of non-tribal entities in their jurisdictions. If the tribes object, legal sports betting is essentially dead in the water for Minnesota.

“The members of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association remain opposed to any and all expansion of off-reservation gambling,” John McCarthy, Executive Director of the association, said in a statement.

The Actual Proposed Bill

The new bill proposed in Minnesota would see the creation of a Sports Wagering Commission and would and would give tribal casinos and the state’s two race tracks the ability to offer legal sports betting.

At first, it would be just a retail betting platform with mobile apps coming a year later. Once mobile betting, which will be connected to tribal casinos, is in place and mature, bettors will be able to place bets anywhere within Minnesota state lines rather than just within tribal nations jurisdiction.

Licence fees and taxation haven’t been discussed just yet, but hopes are that any sign of light for the industry will breed new discussion on the topic, including taxes and fees.

Reasons Brought Forward in Support

Some legislators in Minnesota have downplayed the tax benefits of legal sports betting for the state and have instead hyped the platform as a way to rid the state of its Black Market and bring in an enjoyable part of overall sports viewing to Minnesotans.

“States around us are legalizing it and the vast majority of Minnesotans want to see it happen,” State Rep. Pat Garofalo said. “It would provide consumer protections and allow law enforcement to focus on more important issues.”

Those who aren’t willing to admit the tax benefits are just hiding however. It is expected, with a rabid fan-base and teams in all four of North America’s major sports – the Vikings, Timberwolves, Twins and Wild, there will be a good amount of tax revenue generated for needy state and local tax coffers.

The Chances

Those familiar with the Minnesota legislative scene knows that nothing happens quickly in the state and the subject of legal sports betting is likely to be no different.

Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, the new chair of the House Commerce Committee, although not outwardly opposed to the ideal of a sports betting platform has poured some cold water on the whole idea of a quick resolution.

“We obviously have a really packed agenda, between the pandemic and the budget, I think that makes it pretty challenging to take on a host of other issues,” Stephenson said. “My take would be that I think it’s probably not likely that we’ll do a lot on gaming unless there’s broad consensus among the stakeholders.”

Pressure is mounting on Minnesota. With dwindling funds for government and with states around them adopting their own legal sports betting platforms, Minnesotans are faced with a tough decision – miss the boat on legal sports betting or climb on board and reap the benefits.