Pilot Heidi Kennedy
Head of Casino Operations
Head of Casino Operations
Minnesota sports bettors will have to wait at least another year for legal sports betting in their state, as the legislative session came to an end without the Senate even bringing their amended bill to a vote. In spite of widespread support, the bill ultimately fell apart over issues of who would be licensed to offer legal sports betting in Minnesota.
A recent poll showed that 60% of Minnesota residents are in favor of legalizing sports betting in the state. Their elected officials could not deliver them the change they desire however, as issues surrounding tribal exclusivity derailed the bill and prevented the state Senate from even bringing legislation to a vote. Representative Zach Stephenson authored a bill that resoundingly passed the state’s House of Representatives. The bill granted the state’s 11 tribes exclusive access to both the online market as well as the ability to operate a retail sportsbook. It carried a 10% tax rate on gaming revenue.
Once the bill reached the Senate, legislators amended the proposal to also allow the state’s two horse racing tracks to also offer both retail and online sports betting. They also moved to reduce the tax rate to just 6.75%. While the tax issue was apparently not of major concern, the lack of exclusivity for tribal operators ultimately was the nail in the coffin. Senate House Majority Leader Jeremy Miller said that the Senate would not pass a bill that did not grant the right for commercial entities to operate online sports betting sites. The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, who had been in full support of Stephenson’s original bill, withdrew their backing after the amendment took away their exclusivity over the market. Even if the amended bill had passed the Senate it still would almost certainly have failed as Governor Tim Walz has stated that he will not sign any sports betting legislation that does not have the support of the MIGA.
Most states that get as close as Minnesota did ultimately get over the finish line with sports betting legislation, but it may not happen for Minnesota in 2023. The state’s next round of elections projects to give Republicans control over both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Having control over both branches means it is very likely that they will agree on legislation similar to the amended bill that grants the ability for commercial operators to have licenses in addition to the tribal operators. However, even if they are able to agree and pass the bill, with Walz still acting as Governor in 2023, unless the MIGA changes their stance and offers support for legislation that does not grant them exclusivity, it is unlikely that Walz will be on board.
Another glimmer of hope for Minnesota sports bettors is the possibility of a special legislative session, caused by the fact that many important pieces of legislation were unable to be considered during the state’s normal session. Governor Walz will meet with the leaders of the Senate and House to discuss options shortly, but people close to the issue are already throwing cold water on the possibility saying that even if a special session takes place, it is likely to be short and unlikely that the issue of legal sports betting will even be discussed.
Minnesota residents overwhelmingly are in favor of legalizing sports betting in the state, and polling further shows that they are in favor of a plan that allows for more competition rather than granting tribal exclusivity. It is not surprising, as increased competition and more options for bettors is generally favorable and appealing to those who enjoy wagering on sporting events at top bookmakers.
Regardless of the public support, legislators on both sides who are catering to either the demands of the MIGA or the demands of the two horse racing tracks have ultimately done their constituents a disservice by not finding common ground and finding a way to give the people what they want. Pat Garofalo, a representative who worked on the authoring of the original house bill, told the Duluth News Tribune “(There are) too many legislators focused on short-term political considerations instead of thinking about what is best for the whole state. The sports gambling issue is symbolic of how screwed up the lawmaking process is in Minnesota.”