After 10 years on the sidelines, Canterbury Park is ready to make some noise on Minnesota sports betting efforts.
The horse racetrack and cardroom is renewing lobbying efforts after concluding a 10-year arrangement with the Skakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.
Canterbury Park CEO Randy Sampson spoke with PlayUSA about entering the fray on Minnesota sports betting discussions in 2023.
“Our main message right now is that the horse racing industry should be part of this debate. We don’t have a specific bill or exact idea of what racetracks’ involvement in sports betting should be. In most states where they have racetracks and sports betting, racetracks are involved in one way or another. And we think we should be part of it along with the teams and tribes. I think we should have a bill that provides some sort of benefit for everybody.”
A unique agreement between Minnesota track and tribe
In 2012, after 15 years of fighting for racino expansion in Minnesota, Canterbury Park reached an interesting marketing agreement with Minnesota’s largest Indian casino.
Essentially, Canterbury Park agreed to oppose racinos or any other form of gambling expansion in Minnesota and to promote the Mystic Lake Indian Casino. In return, the tribe paid Canterbury Park $84 million over 10 years, which boosted racing purses at the track.
“It was a very good relationship for 10 years and accomplished what we hoped in terms of boosting purses and revitalizing the horse racing industry in Minnesota,” Sampson said. “It worked out well and we appreciate the support tribes gave to the horse racing industry.”
Sampson indicated that Canterbury Park still could renew its arrangement with Mystic Lake. However, he said one of the main reasons Canterbury Park hasn’t pursued an extension was to be part of the sports betting discussions. Sampson explained:
“We really felt it is important to be part of this debate on a significant change to the gaming landscape in Minnesota that could impact horse racing. If it’s implemented and it has no connection to the horse racing industry, it’s likely to reduce the number of people betting on horses. But if tracks have some involvement that can benefit horses and purses, sports betting could be a positive for horse racing. We felt we needed to make sure Canterbury has the ability to advocate and be part of the dialogue to generate some additional revenue for horses.”
Canterbury supports inclusive sports betting bill
Earlier this week, Sen. Jeremy Miller said he would file a sports betting bill permitting tribes, tracks and professional sports teams to participate in retail Minnesota sports betting. Online licenses go to tribes, who could then partner with sports teams or tracks.
Miller’s bill won’t be the sports betting vehicle in Minnesota, as he’s in the minority (Republican) party. Sen. Matt Klein will take the reins on sports betting for the majority (Democratic-Farmer-Labor) party in the Senate. Rep. Zack Stephenson is working with tribes to develop a House bill.
Sampson does appreciate the inclusive nature of Miller’s bill. The Senate in general has supported including tracks in sports betting while the House passed a bill last year with tribal exclusivity.
Last year, only tribes and tracks were part of the discussion for sports betting licenses. This year, Minnesota sports teams are pushing for direct involvement. Sampson doesn’t object.
“I can say we don’t oppose them getting a license or being part of it,” Sampson said. “I absolutely believe the teams should be part of it, whether through financial contribution or actually getting a license. We’ll get the best outcome if teams receive some direct benefit from it that gets them on board.”
Canterbury’s take on last year’s proposed deal
Last year, Minnesota came close to legalizing sports betting.
The other Minnesota track, Running Aces, worked out a deal with eight of 10 members of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association.
That deal would have given tribes exclusivity over sports betting. In return, tracks could expand table games to include craps and roulette. But that wasn’t acceptable to former Sen. Roger Chamberlain, who wanted a more inclusive and competitive marketplace for sports betting.
Sampson said he wasn’t aware of those discussions until they came out publicly and would have to see specifics to know what stance Canterbury Park would take if a similar proposal comes out this year.
“There’s a number of ways this could be resolved, and craps and roulette could be part of it,” Sampson said. “Canterbury is open to whatever dialogue we can have to find a beneficial outcome for all the stakeholders.”
Legal Minnesota sports betting within two years
After how close Minnesota came to legalizing sports wagering last year, the momentum hasn’t carried over to 2023.
Last year’s proposed compromise is off the table, and the push by sports teams complicates matters.
One month into the Minnesota legislative session, lawmakers have yet to file a sports betting bill. But that’s more a side effect of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party taking control of the Senate last November.
In past years, a split between the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House led to legislative gridlock. Now with control of the House, Senate and governor, the Democratic party is pushing the priorities lawmakers couldn’t get through in past years.
“It seems right now there is not a lot of urgency or momentum to getting this passed,” Sampson said. “The Democratic leadership in the House and Senate are focusing on other issues they think are really important to get done and have indicated that sports betting isn’t at the top of their list.”
Sampson still believes it’s possible that a Minnesota sports betting push happens late in the session after lawmakers finish their main priorities. The Minnesota legislative session ends May 22. Otherwise, he’s confident that Minnesota legalizes sports betting by 2024.
“I think a few months ago, most people would have said this would get done this year. But right now people are saying maybe it isn’t getting done this year. It’s just not at the top of anybody’s list and there is a huge budget surplus. If you ask me, I’d say it’s 50-50 it happens is year. But if it doesn’t, there’s a high likelihood it gets done next year.”