Legislators are gearing up to make a run for Minnesota sports betting in 2022, but it might be without a mobile option.
Rep. Zack Stephenson announced last week he will lead a push to legalize MN sports betting during the 2022 legislative session. Stephenson has not written a bill yet and intends on engaging with other proponents prior to introducing a bill for the session, which starts Jan. 31, 2022.
As the chair of the House Commerce Committee, Stephenson leads a committee that could be key to the passing of a gambling bill.
Timing of Minnesota sportsbook bill
Why now? For starters, Stephenson points to the widespread adoption of US sports betting.
“It’s a good time to start a public conversation,” Stephenson told LSR about a bill’s chances. “There are legislators of both parties in both chambers who support this. We’re seeing more openness from key stakeholders in our community, teams and other groups; more openness from the independent tribal nations, which is really important.
“I’ve been talking to them for months and there is a lot more conversations to be had with the tribes. But I do [think it has a good chance.] I wouldn’t be taking this on if I didn’t.”
No MN sports betting bill yet
Stephenson said not to expect a bill to be introduced until the session starts after the new year. He will work to lead legislators through “a really thorough examination” of available options in the next few months.
“This will be the most significant change, regardless of what we do, to Minnesota gaming law in probably a decade,” he said. “It’s important that we be very deliberate and we may want to walk before we run. It’s important to not close any doors, but we do need to be deliberate and cautious.”
He said mobile sports betting would be the biggest change in Minnesota gaming since tribal compacts were signed with tribes in 1991.
Tribes ready to cooperate?
In Stephenson’s announcement Thursday, it made clear he will discuss MN sports betting with not just legislators but other community stakeholders. Included in that discussion will be a key piece to the Minnesota gaming landscape: the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association.
There are 11 tribes that operate 19 casinos in Minnesota. Unlike in past years, MIGA appears ready to cooperate.
“The tribal governments making up MIGA have been examining the various ways sports betting has been implemented across the country and its impacts on tribal communities,” MIGA Executive Director Andy Platto said in a statement. “As gaming experts, tribes stand ready to share this expertise with lawmakers considering the future of sports betting in Minnesota.”
MN sports betting likely ‘two-step approach’
Long-time MN sports betting proponent Rep. Pat Garofalo told LSR the new effort is “better than nothing.” Garofalo said it seems like this push is likely a pathway to retail sports betting at tribal casinos.
“The issue of mobile has not been resolved,” Garofalo said. “It will be a two-step approach. For incumbent gambling providers, who made large investments in their facilities, it’s reasonable they want people to come there and not do this gambling activity from their home.”
Garofalo said Minnesotans are more open to the idea of sports betting than ever before. He also said they are increasingly willing to drive south for sports betting in Iowa, which recently set a handle record of $280 million in October.
Making sure Minnesota sports betting is done right
Sen. Karla Bigham has worked on MN sports betting bills in the past. Bigham said both chambers will have different ideas of what a successful bill would look like, but that both will do what it takes to get it to conference committee.
Bigham told LSR she’s excited the House is ready to “play ball.” That said, Bigham wants to make sure a bill has key pieces to ensure sports betting’s success, including mobile and remote registration.
“If you’re going to open a can of worms, let’s make sure it’s a good, fresh batch of worms,” Bigham said. “Let’s not do things that aren’t successful just to say we’ve done them.”
Last year, Gov. Tim Walz said he would be open to legalizing Minnesota sports betting if tribes are on board.