Will Minnesota Sports Betting Bill Change Satisfy Horse Racing Tracks?

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Minnesota sports betting

While there are still miles to go before an agreement is reached, Minnesota sports betting legislation is back on the move.

The Senate State and Local Government and Veterans Committee advanced an amended MN sports betting bill, SF 1949, Wednesday, 8-5. The amendment is an attempt to work toward a deal between the state’s tribes and horse racing tracks before the session adjourns May 22.

While Sen. Matt Klein said taking away tribal exclusivity is a nonstarter, he wants to find a way to satisfy the tracks’ desires. Multiple Republican lawmakers, who want tracks included, said during the meeting they are willing to work to find a solution.

“The tracks have a legitimate concern and making sure they are sustainable is a goal,” Klein said Wednesday. “There are ways we can make sure the tracks can feel included.”

Minnesota Senate work comes as House bill stalled

Rep. Zack Stephenson has led the MN sports betting effort the past two years. Last year, his bill advanced to the Senate but stalled when the then-Republican controlled chamber wanted to include the tracks

Stephenson was back in the mix this year but hit the back burner earlier this session as the track conundrum reemerged. Klein, a Senate sponsor of the bill, picked up the legislation to solve the issue in the Senate.

Klein amended the bill in the committee to direct 30% of sports betting tax revenue to the tracks. While appreciative of the effort, representatives from the tracks testified that they want sports betting licenses, as they fear the industry will take business away.

Sports betting numbers game in Minnesota

Courting Republican Senators is essential to the sports betting legislation, as at least two Democrat-Farmer Labor Senators have said they are a “no” vote on any gambling expansion, according to MinnPost. The DFL already controlled the House and took control of the Senate in November’s election with a one-seat advantage.

Sharing some revenue could be a way to court at least a few Republican lawmakers without sharing licenses. The tribes are supportive of the plans to include tracks without giving them licenses, a key because tribes have killed sports betting legislation in the past.

Gov. Tim Walz supports MN sports betting but has said he will not sign a bill without tribal exclusivity. Professional sports teams in Minnesota sent a letter in support of the tribal-exclusive plan earlier this session. Tribes hold casino gaming exclusivity in Minnesota.

Playing second fiddle to marijuana

One industry source said they would be surprised if the bill passes this year because “legalizing marijuana is more of a priority.” Lawmakers also want to finish the budget and a bill to provide paid family leave.

With no agreement yet between the tracks and tribes, the gap might be too big to overcome with just two weeks left in the session. 

The Minnesota legislature, however, can carry over legislation into 2024, so lawmakers could pick the sports betting bill up where it leaves off.