Push from lawmakers

Minnesota sports betting bill gains momentum this year amid ongoing talks with tribes

Minnesota Rep. Zack Stephenson.
Reading time 2:18 min

Several Minnesota lawmakers believe sports betting legalization could gain momentum in the legislature this year, as gaming takes over the US and more states now permit this form of gambling. With 33 states having now legalized sports wagering in some form, up from 19 a year ago, pressure has built on the Gopher State to also launch its gaming market.

While a possible gaming expansion has so far been faced with moral opposition and reluctance from Native American tribes in the North Star State to get involved, the tides now seem to be turning, reports Kare 11. Certain senior lawmakers believe the legislature could pass a bill this year, allowing Minnesotans to place legal wagers on their favorite sporting events.

“The time has passed for us to do this,” said State Representative Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, a long-time legal sports betting supporter. While lawmakers in the state used to be reluctant to show their support to the gaming expansion, others are now joining the effort, which would imply a big shift for the state.

“It would be the biggest change in our gambling laws since the 1980s,” said Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, according to the previously cited source. Stephenson spent the legislative off-season holding discussions with the state’s 11 Indian tribes, pro sports teams, companies and the University of Minnesota in an effort to secure a deal for a new gambling bill.

“You can go in any direction from Minnesota and have the opportunity to do this. I think it means Minnesotans deserve the opportunity,” added the lawmaker. He claims that while details are still being negotiated, there’s momentum for both on-site sportsbooks and internet wagering from anywhere within the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

A sports betting legalization would put Minnesota on a level playing field with neighboring states which have already passed gaming laws. South Dakota and Wisconsin went live with their markets last year, while Iowa has been offering legal bets since 2019. The state is believed to be losing millions in bets to these markets.

“I don’t have a bill yet,” Stephenson, who chairs the House Commerce Committee, admitted on Friday, according to MinnPost. “But I think we’re getting close. I’m hoping to have something more concrete to talk about in the very near future.” 

While Minnesota lawmakers of both parties have introduced bills since 2018, they were unable to pass them. Opposition from the tribes is seen as the main impediment: while the state hasn’t given them exclusive rights to gambling, legislators and the government are seeking to include them in the conversation. Thus far, tribes have shown concern in regards to their casinos losing profit should sports betting become available to both tribal and non-tribal operators.

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association has now been reported as having met with Stephenson for discussions on bill language. While it is still early to tell whether support from tribes will ultimately be secured, progress seems to have been made. “As gaming experts, tribes stand ready to share this expertise with lawmakers considering the future of sports betting in Minnesota,” the MIGA said.

Stephenson further said he has been talking to lawmakers in both the House and Senate and to both DFLers and Republicans, further reports MinnPost. The lawmaker says mobile betting is part of the current conversation, with most states that feature online betting being more successful than those that don’t. “It’s become clear to me that mobile is pretty essential to this enterprise,” he said.

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