Land Of 10,000 Aches: Minnesota Sports Betting Bill Dies

Written By Pat Evans on May 23, 2022
Minnesota sports betting

Minnesota sports betting legalization efforts are on ice until next year. 

Minnesota lawmakers did not pass MN sports betting legislation before adjourning their session late Sunday night. A Senate committee’s addition of licenses for two horse racing tracks proved too significant of a hurdle for stakeholders to overcome.

The session started with a promising bipartisan push and alignment with Minnesota’s gaming tribes, but that fundamental disagreement kept sports betting from becoming a reality in 2022. Similar obstacles will likely remain in future efforts.

What Minnesota sports betting could have been

Rep. Zack Stephenson announced in fall 2021 that he would lead a legalization effort during the 2022 session. He authored a bill that gave the 11 Minnesota tribes sports betting exclusivity. 

Stephenson’s bill ventured through five committees and passed the House, 70-57. 

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association supported Stephenson’s bill throughout the committee hearings. The MIGA backing was significant, as tribal opposition helped kill previous sports betting legalization efforts – and ultimately did this year, as Gov. Tim Walz said he would not sign a sports betting bill without their support.

Minnesota sports betting bill details

Stephenson’s proposal gave each of the 11 Minnesota tribes an online skin. The tribes could also operate retail sportsbooks at casinos.

In Stephenson’s plan, the state would tax mobile sports betting revenue at 10%.

In addition to tribal licenses, a Senate bill included mobile sports betting licenses for the two Minnesota horse racing tracks and a 6.75% tax rate. The Senate bill did not move during the session.

Minnesota chambers differed on sports betting

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller repeatedly said sports betting would need commercial entities added to pass the Senate. Once in the Senate, an amendment during a committee hearing added the two horse racing tracks. 

MIGA sent an opposition letter to the committee. The amendment was a “monkey wrench,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman said during a news conference last week. 

With little room to negotiate and three days remaining in the session, the addition sealed the bill’s fate. The Senate did not act on the legislation on the floor.

Special session in Minnesota?

Until Monday, Walz said a special session was unlikely. However, the legislature missed the deadline for a few critical bills, including public safety and education funding.

Now, Walz is more open to a special session. Walz, Hortman and Miller will meet Monday to discuss options.

A special session would likely be short and sports betting probably would not be discussed, an industry source said.

Where Minnesota sports betting goes from here

The Minnesota GOP expects to take control of the House in 2023. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt – who voted against Stephenson’s bill – said on the floor he ultimately supports sports betting and it will pass in future years.

A bill similar to the Senate version would likely emerge with two GOP-controlled chambers. However, with Walz likely still in office in 2023, a signature is unlikely.

More than 60% of Minnesotans support legalizing sports betting, according to a KTSP/SurveyUSA poll. The results show Minnesota bettors would prefer a version that looks more like the Senate proposal.

Not all partisan politics in Minnesota

The House bill was a bipartisan effort authored by Stephenson (DFL) and Rep. Pat Garofalo (R). Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R) and Sen. Karla Bigham (DFL) led the Senate effort.

“(There are) too many legislators focused on short-term political considerations instead of thinking about what is best for the whole state,” Garofalo told the Duluth News Tribune. “The sports gambling issue is symbolic of how screwed up the lawmaking process is in Minnesota.”

Throughout the process, Stephenson acknowledged the state’s massive budget surplus and said sports betting legalization was more about bringing the industry into a regulated market than tax revenue.

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Pat Evans

Pat Evans is a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based reporter covering sports business. Evans previously worked at Front Office Sports and the Grand Rapids Business Journal. He has authored two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer.

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