Sports betting bill on the move in Minnesota House

A bill legalizing sports betting is on its way to a fourth committee after passing the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning by a 10-6 vote.

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“This is an idea whose time has come,” says bill author Rep. Zach Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids. “Having said that, it’s important to get this right. This is the biggest change to our state’s gambling laws in 40 years.”

Despite Stephenson’s optimism, legal sports betting isn’t yet a sure thing in Minnesota this year. The House bill would allow sports betting only at tribal casinos and Native Americans would also have control of partnering with companies to offer mobile sports betting.

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association approves of the bill in its current form.

“In many cases, the impact of sports wagering expansion has been a positive one but only when the authorizing legislation is carefully crafted to ensure that tribes play a critical role bringing the marketplace to consumers,” testified Andy Platto, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association.

However, a Senate proposal would also allow sports betting at the state’s two horse tracks which could be an obstacle to final approval.

Minnesota’s nearly $3 billion charitable gaming industry is also a potential obstacle.

“To be clear, we are not opposed to sports betting in general,” testified Sam Krueger of the Electronic Gaming Group, which represents charitable gaming interests. “But we are against bills that will allow our chief competitor, the tribes, to vastly expand their operations outside their existing jurisdictions without allowing the charities to compete and grow going forward.”

There was also testimony against the expansion of gambling because of the social damage opponents claim it can do.

“Sports gambling’s already legal in Minnesota,” Les Bernal of the national anti-sports gambling organization Stop Predatory Gambling told lawmakers. “If you and I want to make a friendly wager on the March Madness bracket we can already do that. What’s illegal in Minnesota is running a sportsbook. Running it as a business. Because it’s inherently predatory and that’s why Minnesota has prohibited this activity.”

The bill now goes to the House Taxes Committee. The Senate sports betting bill hasn’t had a hearing yet.