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Stakeholders Close In On Minnesota Sports Betting Deal Amid Legislative Uncertainty

Indian tribes and horse racetracks are closing in on an agreement that could facilitate passage of Minnesota sports betting this weekend.

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Matthew Kredell Avatar
4 mins read

Indian tribes and horse racetracks are closing in on a deal that could finally get Minnesota sports betting done entering the final weekend of the legislative session.

Multiple sources say significant progress has been made toward an online sports betting revenue-sharing deal between tribes and tracks.

Stakeholders are confident they can reach a deal to gain the horse racing support needed to garner the Senate Republican votes necessary for passage.

The past two years, Minnesota sports betting legislation failed when the tribes and tracks couldn’t reach an agreement by the end of session.

This time, the bill’s fate could come down to whether the Minnesota legislature gets through highly politicized bills on equal rights, abortion and bonding while staying civil enough to get anything else done in the final days.

Minnesota’s legislature adjourns Monday, but actually any bills must pass by 11:59 p.m. on Sunday.

Standalone historical horse racing ban created as backup

On Monday, Rep. Zack Stephenson added sports betting language to HF5274, a bill he created to prohibit tracks from offering historical horse racing (HHR).

Stephenson made the move to allow Minnesota sports betting to reach the Senate floor without having to go through the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. John Marty, who chairs that committee, would have blocked it without significant changes.

However, the move also tied together the fates of sports betting and the HHR prohibition. Last month, the Minnesota Racing Commission approved the tracks offering HHR machines beginning May 21. A tribe filed a legal challenge to stop that from happening.

Tying the bills together gave the tracks less motivation to accept a deal on sports wagering. The chance to get a positive court decision on HHR without a legislative prohibition meant more than sports betting revenue share.

Friday morning, Stephenson added a clean HHR prohibition bill into SF2219. Stephenson clarified that the bill only prohibits HHR and not any games currently offered by the tracks.

Stephenson explained in the Ways and Means Committee:

“As part of the bipartisan discussions around sports betting and discussions with stakeholders, there was emerging consensus that maybe the HHR ban should travel separately and that might make it easier to reach agreement on the sports betting bill.”

If sports betting legislation doesn’t pass, the legislature will likely pass the HHR prohibition as a standalone bill.

Rep. Pat Garofalo spoke against the HHR prohibition.

“The author of the bill framed this action as bipartisan or being helpful. That’s an opinion. That’s not a fact. I don’t view this act moving separately as anything positive. I don’t view this as collaborative in any shape or form. I’m opposed to the language. I don’t think it should become law. … It’s ridiculous that we are banning this form, something that really could be a tool to help us get sports gambling enacted. So if you are an opponent of sports gambling, then you should be pleased with the majority moving forward on this bill today because it makes it less likely to happen.”

Legislative civility key to Minnesota sports betting passage

On Wednesday, the Minnesota House ended the day in chaos. House Republicans spent eight hours filibustering on HF5363, which merely included technical changes to a paid family leave law.

The sports betting legislation was on the agenda Wednesday but didn’t get heard because of the filibuster.

Republicans were delaying the discussion moving forward to SF37, a more controversial bill relating to equal rights and abortion.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman finally moved for a vote just before midnight, cutting off the delay by Republicans. Hortman explained in a press conference Thursday:

“Minnesotans sent us here to deliver. We will deliver. We’ll get the work done. The minority absolutely has the right to be heard. Eight hours was a full debate on the paid family leave technical bill. But just the rules provide that the minority has the right to be heard, the rules of the House also provide that the majority has the right and the responsibility to govern.”

There also is strife in the Senate, where Democrats hold only a one-chair advantage that was put to the test this session when Sen. Nicole Mitchell was arrested for burglary in a domestic issue.

Even if tribes and tracks finalize an agreement, there’s concern that a partisan breakdown could prevent Minnesota’s sports betting package.

However, considering the bill includes charitable gaming tax breaks that legislators on both sides of the aisle consider crucial for Minnesota charities, there’s every reason for optimism that Minnesota sports betting legislation finally reaches the finish line this weekend.

Matthew Kredell Avatar
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Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 and his since interviewed over 300 lawmakers around the country.

View all posts by Matthew Kredell

Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 and his since interviewed over 300 lawmakers around the country.

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