Minnesota Sports Betting Falls Short Again in 2024

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Minnesota Sports betting

Despite early session optimism and a reported late deal, Minnesota sports betting legislation will sit on ice for at least another year. 

With the legislature embroiled in partisan politics to end the session, Rep. Zack Stephenson (Democrat-Farmer-Labor) tweeted out an update that Minnesota sports betting would not pass before deadline, which was at midnight Monday morning.

“We’re going to come up just short on the sports betting bill this year,” Stephenson tweeted. “But in the last few days we proved that we could find a deal that all the major stakeholders could live with. Tribes, tracks, charities… That’s meaningful progress that can be a foundation for the future.”

Hopeful last weekend in Minnesota

The DFL and Republicans spent eight hours debating a bill on Wednesday, ending with House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL) jumping straight to a vote near the end of the night. With the upset Republicans yelling in objection, Hortman brought up Stephenson’s sports betting legislation only to table it. 

Heading into the weekend, multiple industry sources said while it was a long shot, the bill could cross the finish line before the deadline. However, the partisan fighting continued and with bipartisan support required for sports betting passage because of party opposition on both sides, a quote from House Minority Leader Lisa Demote (R) and Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson (R) left any shot in doubt. 

“Democrats have continued to negotiate bills behind closed doors without involving nearly half the legislature,” they released in a statement. “Until Republicans are involved in these discussions, there will be no Republican votes for any bills that require bipartisan support.”

Last chance for Minnesota sports betting 

A bipartisan group of sports betting supporters, including Stephenson and Sen. Jeremy Miller (R), told reporters in St. Paul that despite the framework of a deal, the legislature would likely run out of time.

As the session wound down to a close Sunday, the DFL majority rolled nine pieces of legislation into an omnibus bill. The passage happened less than an hour before the deadline and ended with Republicans yelling again, including the word “tyranny.”

Some industry stakeholders hoped sports betting might slip into the package. DFL leadership left sports betting out.

What happened to Minnesota sports betting?

After being left behind in favor of major DFL goals in 2023, there was industry and legislative optimism sports betting could pass in 2024. Stakeholders in the discussion, mainly the state’s tribes and horse racing tracks, worked on the deal over the break.

Clear battle lines have existed with the Republicans and tracks on one side and the DFL and tribes on the other. The tribes want sports betting exclusivity and, with strong DFL influence, have killed sports betting legislation in the past.

Stephenson’s bills have allocated sports betting revenue to the tracks. The tracks, however, want sports betting licenses, a stipulation that kept Republican supporters away from agreeing to the proposal.

HHR rollercoaster in Minnesota

As the stakeholders discussed sports betting, the Minnesota Racing Commission approved historical horse racing at the two tracks. That decision irked the tribes, who argue the slot machine-like HHR devices violate their casino gaming exclusivity.

Stephenson then introduced a bill earlier this month to ban HHR machines, saying he hoped to ensure the legislature controls gambling expansion. He eventually rolled sports betting language into that bill.

The House passed a standalone HHR ban Friday, 71-58, while the Senate approved it Saturday, 36-25.

As the HHR debate rolled on, one of the tracks, Running Aces, sued three tribal casinos for offering games outside of their compacts.

Minnesota sports betting legislation 2025 chances

While news of an agreement late Sunday might give high hopes for next year, there could be a legislative shake-up. The DFL controls both chambers of the legislature and Gov. Tim Walz

This November, however, all 134 House seats are up for election. That includes an open seat from long-time Minnesota sports betting supporter Rep. Pat Garofalo (R), who is retiring.

There is also the case of Sen. Nicole Mitchell‘s (DFL) arrest this month. The burglary arrest caused Republicans to call for Senate leadership to strip her voting rights, which would deadlock the Senate at 33-33.

Will Stepenson lead another sports betting push? 

Stephenson has led the sports betting discussion for three sessions. If he wins reelection in November, Stephenson and the bipartisan group of supporters will likely take another shot at the deal they say exists.

Stephenson’s base legislation has given the 11 tribes in the state sports betting licenses. It also creates a 20% tax on sports betting revenue.

Minnesota’s professional sports teams support Stephenson’s initial tribal exclusivity

Photo by Shutterstock/Maksym Kaharlyk