Minnesota Pushes Sports Betting Bill Forward, But Challenges Still Loom
The Minnesota Legislature has moved its sports betting bill forward for a third consecutive week following hearings in both the House and Senate.
HF 2000 successfully cleared its third committee on March 9 when the House Committee on Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee advanced it. Its previous stops were both in the House, first at the Commerce, Finance, and Policy Committee and then Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee.
This bill - which would allow for retail and statewide mobile sports betting via exclusive wagering licenses granted to the state’s 11 tribal nations - now heads to the State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee for further review, and still has multiple stops after that before getting to the House floor.
Rep. Zack Stephenson, who introduced the bill, announced that he added language during the latest committee session to require operators to share aggregated sports wagering data with the University of Minnesota for conducting research to ensure the integrity of sports betting and improve problem gambling services.
This amendment was recommended by Susan Tucker, the executive director of the Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gaming, and passed with the bill. Rep. Stephenson is using the investment in responsible gaming as one of his key selling points. “We would devote more resources than ever before to confronting this problem,” he said during Thursday’s committee hearing, and noted that “this would be the largest investment by far in any state in the country.”
Among the considerations: A potential "waiting period" between wagers to prevent sports bettors from making multiple bets in a short period of time.
Racetracks want in on Minnesota sports betting
As the bill currently stands, Minnesota’s 11 tribes would get a monopoly on sports betting, and professional sports team and horse-racing facilities would be excluded from licensure. The tribes would then be able to partner with the best sports betting apps like FanDuel and DraftKings to offer mobile sports betting in Minnesota.
The state’s professional sports teams are in support of this structure, as is the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association. The racetracks have been the hurdle that previous bills have failed to leap in the past, and their omission in this year’s legislation will surely be a sticking point for any naysayers. In fact, Stephenson introduced a similar bill in 2022’s session that eventually made its way out of the House, but ultimately failed in the Senate because it didn’t include the racetracks.
He has tasked Rep. Brad Tabke to find a solution to get horse racing support for HF 2000, and Rep. Walter Hudson also said he would like to “see tracks included in this.” Tabke even mentioned during the Thursday hearing that they’ve “been working on an amendment that we’re making great progress on” but that “it’s just not quite ready yet.”
Sen. Matt Klein - who introduced SF 1949 in the Senate - said that he wants to respect tribal sovereignty while also figuring out how to involve the tracks when the bill goes to the State and Local Government Committee. He remarked to his fellow senators that “one principle which is not open for amendment or discussion is tribal exclusivity over these wagering licenses,” and this outright Senate support for tribal exclusivity is a significant departure from last year.
Still, multiple senators in the Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee did speak up for the tracks, and a few said they wouldn’t support a bill without involving the tracks. To that end, Klein admitted that “this bill will not move forward and cannot move forward without the support” of those senators, so perhaps both sides will be amenable to compromise in some form or fashion.
The problem of tribal sovereignty
Mobile sports betting in Minnesota is actually the hot-button issue enveloping the whole discussion.
Rep. Stephenson acknowledged “the phenomena that is different now is mobile, and an activity that is being organized, regulated, and managed by a sovereign nation, but occurs off of reservation lands.” This year’s version of the bill leaves out horse tracks while including this language: “The incidental routing of a mobile sports wager shall not determine the location or locations in which the wager is initiated, received or otherwise made.”
This language basically asserts that anywhere a mobile wager is placed in Minnesota, if it flows through a server on tribal land, then it would be considered to have been made on said tribal land. The Seminole tribe in Florida tried a similar approach, and the legality of its compact with the state using that interpretation is now in the hands of a federal court after being struck down initially.
Even with the positive momentum gained in the last three weeks, the best hope for legalizing Minnesota sports betting still faces tons of unanswered questions, all of which must be reconciled before the legislature adjourns May 22 (should it even make it that far).