Minnesota Sports Betting Effort Starts With Key Supporters Aligned

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Minnesota sports betting

A key agreement for legalized Minnesota sports betting is in place, giving renewed hope to the bill’s chances. 

Rep. Zack Stephenson introduced a new MN sports betting bill Tuesday, and his proposal includes a letter from the state’s professional sports teams confirming their support for legislation that gives Minnesota tribes control of sports betting. The bill will begin its journey in the Stephenson-chaired House Commerce Committee.

A Stephenson-led bill passed the House in 2022, but it stalled with a Senate effort to add Minnesota horse racing tracks. The bill is largely similar to last year’s legislation and provides the state’s 11 federally recognized tribes sports betting exclusivity, with each receiving an online license.

“We’re back this year and intend to finish the job,” Stephenson said during a press conference Tuesday. “I commend the hard work [the tribes and sports teams] put in to reach an agreement.”

Support for Minnesota sports betting

In the past, Minnesota gaming tribes blocked sports betting legislative efforts, as they hold exclusive casino gaming rights in the state. Last year, the tribes dropped long-standing opposition to gaming expansion and supported to Stephenson’s bill throughout hearings.

A Minnesota Indian Gaming Association statement this week continues to back Stephenson’s efforts, but the organization also will continue to monitor and offer “refinements to improve the language.” 

“Gaming revenues produce the essential tax base Tribes rely on to fund basic and essential government services for thousands of tribal members,” a MIGA statement reads. “Any time state changes the gaming landscape, tribes must carefully consider whether such proposals strengthen or, in fact, threaten tribal sovereignty and self-determination.”

Sports teams back new Minnesota effort

Six professional sports teams sent a letter in support of Stephenson’s bill, explicitly stating, “the teams support tribal sports betting exclusivity and empowering all tribes to offer statewide mobile sports betting.”

The letter also expresses concerns that other sports betting proposals might provide non-tribal entities “that are not teams” with licenses.

The teams in support are: 

Party alignment in Minnesota

Last year, Stephenson’s party, the Democrat-Farmer Labor Party, controlled the House, but Republicans ran the Senate. Republicans expected to gain control of the House in the fall’s election and would have been able to control sports betting proposals this year.

Instead, the DFL took over the Senate in November, which could provide Stephenson’s new bill a streamlined process through the legislature. Sen. Matt Klein will be the main sponsor for Stephenson’s proposal in the Senate and believes there will be bipartisan support for the legislation.

Gov. Tim Walz is also a sports betting proponent and DFL member.

Minnesota Senate bill takes different approach

Sen. Jeremy Miller introduced a bill earlier this month, which provides Minnesota sports teams and racetracks with access to sports betting licenses. Miller led the Senate effort to include race tracks last year, and he does not believe there will be enough support for a tribal exclusive bill this year.

While tribes each receive a primary license under Miller’s proposal, they can also gain a secondary mobile license by partnering with a team or track.

Racetracks already vocal

Representatives from the two horse racing tracks asked for inclusion in the bill during its first House committee hearing Feb. 27.

The idea racetracks could emerge as a pain point for Stephenson’s bill this year, even with DFL party alignment and the team-tribal agreement, was predicted in a statement from Rep. Pat Garofalo. Garofalo also expressed concern the sports betting age in Stephenson’s bill is 18, similar to tribal casino gaming restrictions, rather than 21.

“Wile I am encouraged by today’s developments, it is important that the concerns of all stakeholders, including horse race tracks, are addressed as we move forward on this historic legislation,” Garofalo said. “Additionally, I remain very concerned that the current version of the bill would allow teenagers to bet on sports.”