As the football season kicks off, state officials are reminding Minnesotans that most sports betting is illegal in the state — a prohibition that is routinely flouted.
At a St. Paul press conference Thursday, officials offered no estimate for illegal wagering in Minnesota but said they expect an uptick this year because Minneapolis will host the Super Bowl next year.
Terry Kelley, a special agent with the Department of Public Safety's Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, said there'll be stepped-up enforcement of gambling laws.
He said private bets between two people and wagers on fantasy sports are OK but otherwise sports wagering is illegal.
"If you are giving or accepting money or something of value and you're paying out prizes, it's going to be illegal," he said.
Gamblers and establishments where betting occurs can face legal penalties. But Kelley couldn't provide a count for gambling arrests.
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He said he often hears people wonder why the state makes sports gambling illegal.
"They say, 'Hey it's not the crime of the century. Nobody's getting hurt. Why do you bother with it?' ... But one of the biggest reasons why sports wagering is illegal is because it has no consumer protection," he said. "How do you know that what you're doing is fair? How do you know that if you win, you're going to get paid? "
There are efforts in many states, including Minnesota, to legalize sports betting. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case in which New Jersey and other states argue that they should be free to decide if they permit sports gambling or not.
Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said he plans to introduce legislation to legalize sports betting in Minnesota.
"We want to have it safe, regulated, and fair," he said. "Sports gambling is taking place in Minnesota, especially with the Internet. A lot of this money that's being wagered is going overseas, where there are no consumer protections. It's not being regulated."
The American Gaming Association, a trade group for the casino industry and other entities involved with gambling, pegs illegal sports betting nation-wide at $150 billion a year. The most popular events are the Super Bowl and the NCAA basketball championship.