Sports betting bill at Minnesota Legislature would put tribes in charge

A man looks at a crowd at a podium
More than 30 states have already legalized sports betting in some form, Rep. Stephenson said. He expects tribes to partner with online gambling operations to create a competitive market in the state.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Updated 3:05 p.m.

A year after a sports betting bill stalled in the state Senate, Democrats are partnering with tribal nations to legalize the practice. It would allow people to place bets online or at tribal casinos.

“We want a product that’s safe, that has great consumer protections, and that works across the state of Minnesota, and that helps all communities in the state of Minnesota,” Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, said. “Only the tribes operate in all corners of the state in terms of people we could partner with for this. So I think it really makes sense having the tribes be the significant partner that we work with.”

Stephenson said proceeds from the betting would be used to fund gambling oversight, youth sports and help for problem gamblers.

“Legalization is the only responsible way to address the phenomena of sports betting. Only through legalization can we provide consumer protection,” Stephenson said. “Only through legalization can we honestly deal with the terrible issue of problem gambling.”

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Stephenson and other bill authors say it would be the largest expansion of legal gambling in the state in more than three decades.

Executives with the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Wild, Timberwolves and Lynx signed a letter supporting the bill’s approach of partnering with tribes. Under the bill the major sports teams would not operate sports betting. 

The bill’s state Senate sponsor, Sen. Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights, said it’s too early to know yet whether there are the votes in the closely divided chamber to pass the bill this session. 

The two horse racing tracks in the state are not currently part of the sports betting proposal, despite calls from some Republicans to have them included. Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said that the legislation is an important step, but that race tracks need to be included. Garofalo said he’s also concerned that the current version of the bill doesn’t set a minimum age of 21.

Three people stand at a podium
Rep. Zack Stephenson a proposed bill that would legalize sports betting through tribes at the Minnesota State Capitol Tuesday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

“Legalized sports betting presents great opportunities for Minnesota, and we need to make sure we do this right,” Garofalo said in a statement.

More than 30 states have already legalized sports betting in some form, Stephenson said. He expects tribes to partner with online gambling operations to create a competitive market in the state.

Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, introduced a bill earlier in the session that would allow sports betting at tribal casinos and race tracks. Miller called the DFL bill “a step in the right direction,” but said the tracks should be included.

“The racetracks are, in my opinion, are a stakeholder when it comes to sports entertainment, when it comes to betting,” Miller said. “I just think it’s important for them to be at the table, and for them to be involved in the discussion.”

Miller said he didn’t think the bill had the support to pass in the Senate with just the tribal partnership, and that the bill certainly would not attract Republican support without the tracks involved.

Minnesota Now: The Minnesota Legislature considers a bill to legalize sports betting

“Until we have all the stakeholders at the table and involved in the discussions and supportive of the aspects of the bill, I don’t believe it has bipartisan support,” Miller said.

The CEO of the Running Aces track went further, saying the track must be able to offer the same sports betting options as tribal casinos.

“Minnesota racetracks have been the only entities to offer sports betting for the past 38 years,” CEO Tara Ito said in a statement. “Running Aces has taken over 10 million sport bets since opening. A sports betting bill that excludes Running Aces jeopardizes the future of the horse racing industry in Minnesota.”