Minnesota Sports Betting Bill Takes Step Forward But Doubts Remain

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Minnesota sports betting

A Minnesota sports betting bill has been rolled into a recently introduced horse racing bill. 

During a Friday House Ways & Means Committee, Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL) placed the language from his Minnesota sports betting bill, House File 2000, into legislation he introduced in response to the Minnesota Racing Commission approving historical horse racing machines.

The committee advanced House File 5274 to the House general calendar. Multiple legislative proponents have expressed doubts it can pass in the session’s remaining time as it ends May 20.

Minnesota sports betting hurdles

Stephenson has championed sports betting the past three sessions. While the DFL controls both legislative chambers, internal opposition means MN sports betting requires bipartisan support to pass. 

With the tracks and Republicans on one side and tribes and DFL on the other, a middle ground needs to be found. Heading into this session, stakeholders were optimistic the state’s tribes and horse racing tracks were working out their differences and negotiating a deal for the state.

This session, however, existing hurdles seemingly grew and remain in the way of passage.

Not enough support for Minnesota tracks

The tribes want sports betting exclusivity, which they have with casino gaming. They have killed legislation in the past through their strong relationship with the DFL.

The state’s two tracks, however, want licenses. Instead, Stephenson’s bill allocates $625,000 to the Minnesota Racing Commission.

“That’s not enough,” Rep. Brian Pfarr (R) said during Friday’s meeting. “We’re not taking care of them. I won’t support it until we get that piece figured out.”

Minnesota tracks and tribes at odds 

As the tracks and tribes work to find a middle ground, the racing commission approved 500 slot machine-like historical horse racing machines at the two tracks. 

The tribes believe that infringes on their gambling exclusivity, and Stephenson introduced HF 5274 to prohibit HHR, looking to ensure that gambling expansion is in the hands of the legislature.

One of the tracks, Running Aces, then sued three tribal casinos for offering games not included in their compacts.

Senate problems for Minnesota sports betting

During a committee hearing on HF 2000 last week, multiple House Republicans said the proposal will likely not pass this session. Those comments came as the Senate fell into disarray following the arrest of DFL Sen. Nicole Mitchell.

While Senate leadership stripped Mitchell of her committee seats, she kept her voting rights, something Republicans hoped would be gone. The DFL maintains a one-vote majority in the Senate.

That situation has caused Senate dysfunction and makes it unlikely an issue needing bipartisan support can pass. 

Minnesota sports betting proposal

Stephenson’s proposal gives Minnesota’s 11 tribes sports betting exclusivity. The state’s professional sports teams support Stephenson’s plan.

The legislation would create a 20% tax on sports betting revenue.

Stephenson recently told reporters he believes its chances of passing sit at 50%, while Senate sponsor Sen. Matt Klein (DFL) put it at 20%.