Critics Slam Bill To Legalize Sports Betting in Minnesota

The North Star State is home to several major league sports teams, including the MLB’s Minnesota Twins, the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, and, of course, the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. Therefore, Minnesota is clearly a state for avid sports fans. And, with the popularity of regulated online sports betting on the rise, there is a lot of excitement about legal Minnesota sports wagering in the air. 

However, this anticipation and optimism have been met with opposition. Many critics of a bill to regulate and legalize sports betting in the state believe that doing so would worsen gambling addiction and problem gambling in Minnesota. Similarly, these critics also say that the endorsement of legalized gambling in the state would favor native tribes over other sports betting and online gambling interests. 

But before we look into further conflict from critics, let’s take a closer look at the current legality of gambling in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. 

The Legality of Online Sports Betting in Minnesota

Presently, online sports betting is not legal in Minnesota. However, the North Star State is home to around 20 brick-and-mortar casinos, including the legendary Mystic Lake Casino, the largest land-based gambling venue in the Midwest. Bettors in the state can also place pari-mutuel horse racing wagers at several racetracks and licensed retail locations. 

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (or MIGA) currently regulates all gambling-related activities in Minnesota. Nevertheless, along with critics of legalized Minnesota sports betting, MIGA recently expressed fears over the effect regulated sportsbooks and betting apps would have on Minnesota’s gaming market. Still, despite these concerns, Minnesota lawmakers are hoping to legalize online sports wagering by late 2023.  

Minnesota Sports Betting Background

Before we look into the future of Minnesota’s sports betting landscape, we must first look into the past. While the history of gambling dates back thousands of years, Minnesota’s first venture into legal gambling came in the 1940s with the legalization of nonprofit bingo. Over the years, gambling in the state has developed and changed, but here is a closer look at the recent Minnesota sports betting regulation timeline. 

2019

In 2019, two bills were submitted and rejected by the US Senate. Bill SF1894 was proposed in February by a coalition of senators, including Roger Chamberlain, Karla Bigham, Karin Housley, and Jeremy Miller. However, the bill was rejected due to resistance from native tribes.

A coalition of representatives, including Patrick Garofalo, Rod Hamilton, John Huot, Joe McDonald, Nick Zerwas, and Nolan West, attempted to submit a bill later in the year. This bill proposed the development of the Minnesota sports wagering commission to handle tax, licensing, and regulation. However, Bill HF1278 was subsequently rejected by the tribes. 

2020

While 2020 was drastically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, this didn’t stop Senator Roger Chamberlain from submitting and delivering an amended version of Bill SF1894 in March of that year. However, the bill was, again, rejected due to COVID implications and tribal opposition. 

In fact, four problem gambling experts also opposed the bill, including Susan Sheridan Tucker, the executive director of the Northstar Gaming Alliance. Tucker proposed that all future regulations should include a 1% revenue allowance for helping problem gambling. 

2021

A total of five bills were proposed throughout 2021, including a new proposal from Senator Karla Bigham. Unfortunately, Bill SF410 was rejected without a hearing. Similarly, Bill SF410 is introduced in collaboration with Bill HF767 from Representative Patrick Garofalo, yet this is also refused. In May 2021, the Minnesota legislative session for the year was adjourned, with the three additional bills supporting the legalization of sports betting in the state all rejected. 

2022

And that leads us to 2022, with Senator Roger Chamberlain introducing a bipartisan proposal to the US Senate in February, along with Senators Karin Housely and Julia Coleman. If signed into law, the bill will permit online and in-person sports wagering in Minnesota and could go into effect in late 2023 at the earliest. 

Reaction to Minnesota Sports Betting 

So, why are Minnesota lawmakers opposed to legalizing regulated sports betting in the state? 

Firstly, native American tribes in the North Star State have been the most vocal rivals of sports betting in Minnesota. Many argue that legalizing online betting would significantly harm Minnesota’s existing gambling industry. Additionally, other critics of a recent bill to regulate sports betting in the state warned officials that it might worsen gambling addiction and favor tribes over other gambling activities. 

This bill, sponsored by Representative Zack Stephenson, would permit in-person sports betting at land-based casinos and gambling venues and facilitate native tribes to issue licenses to mobile gambling operators. The Senate version of the bill, created by Senator Roget Chamberlain, would also permit in-person sports wagering within Minnesota’s two horse racing tracks. 

However, Anne Krisnik, the executive director at the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, warned that more must be done to educate sports bettors in Minnesota about gambling addiction and problem gambling. Similarly, Krisnik continued that we must support those affected by problem gambling before the bill moves forward.

Krisnik stated, “We know that gambling operators are going to do a great job of discussing the entertainment value of gambling, but we must make sure Minnesotans understand what’s at risk.” 

In an effort to regulate gambling in the state, Representative Zack Stephenson stated that the tax rate on the revenue generated from sports wagering would be as low as possible. He continued that this would encourage sports bettors to ditch unlawful wagering and gambling at offshore sites and therefore advance towards Minnesota’s regulated model. Stephenson’s bill would also establish the minimum legal gambling age at 21 and reserve revenue for youth sports. 

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA), which represents ten of the 11 tribal nations in Minnesota, has voiced hesitant support from the bill, which is a drastic change from its previous opposition to legalizing regulated sports betting across the state. After meeting with all 11 tribes, Stephenson also met with the University of Minnesota, Minnesota’s professional sports teams, and the state’s sports betting brands before crafting the bill.

Furthermore, the Electronic Gaming Group’s executive director, Sam Krueger, noted that charitable gambling (including electronic pull-tab games) helps fund several community groups statewide, including services for veterans, youth sports programs, and snowmobile clubs. He continued that this legislation “picks winners and losers” in the gambling industry, and excluding charitable gambling operations would jeopardize the financial well-being of these community groups.

Krueger said to lawmakers, “We are not against sports betting in general. But we are against bills that allow our chief competitions (the tribes) to expand their operations outside of existing jurisdictions without allowing charities a reasonable path to grow going forward.”

The Benefits of Minnesota Sports Betting

So, we’ve delved into the opposition of regulated sports betting in Minnesota, recent developments, and the current legality of gambling in the North Star State. But, what are the benefits? Well, the legalization of online sports betting in Minnesota can help the state protect bettors from underage gambling and promote responsible gambling. In addition, the introduction of regulated betting will influence the state to crack down on illicit sports betting operators. 

Similarly, Minnesota sports betting is anticipated to generate tax revenues that will improve the state’s economy. We can look at Minnesota’s neighboring states with legalized and regulated online gambling markets as a prime example of this. Retail sports betting is currently legal in North Dakota and South Dakota, Minnesota’s neighbors to the left. 

However, if we consider the gambling revenues from US states near Minnesota with online and mobile sports betting operations, including Illinois, Michigan, and Iowa, the benefits of legalizing sports betting are clear. The latter began taking bets in August 2019, and the regulated online gambling market has continued to grow ever since. For example, Iowa accepted over $72 million in wagers in September 2020 alone!

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