A bill seeking to legalize both retail and online sports gaming in Minnesota is now headed to a Senate Judiciary Committee, where it could face further opposition, after narrowly clearing the House Committee on Government Finance & Elections on a 7-5 vote.
Earlier this month, HF 778 had been approved by the House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee. Critics of sports betting in the state now took aim at the bill and warned legislators on Tuesday that a passage would worsen problem gambling and favor tribes over other gaming interests.
Anne Krisnik of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition told the House committee that more needed to be done to educate Minnesotans about problem gambling and support those affected by it before the legislation goes forward, reports Associated Press.
“We know that operators are going to do a great job of talking about the entertainment value of gambling, but we need to make sure that Minnesotans understand what’s at risk,” the representative of the interfaith public interest group told legislators.
Among parties opposing the bill was also trade association Electronic Gaming Group, which claims charitable gambling, such as electronic pull-tab games, funds youth sports programs and services for veterans, among other community groups. Executive director Sam Krueger accused the legislation of picking “winners and losers” in the industry by excluding charitable gambling.
“To be clear, we are not against sports betting in general,” he told lawmakers, according to AP. “But we are against bills that allow our chief competitors, the tribes, to vastly expand their operations outside of their existing jurisdictions without allowing the charities a reasonable path to compete and grow going forward.”
The bill was also opposed by parties questioning why racetracks aren’t included among venues eligible for licenses. Rep. Jon Kaznick, Republican, voted against the legislation for that reason. Meanwhile, a similar bill pending in the Senate would allow tracks to apply for licenses, but it is unlikely to receive support from tribes, which is seen as vital for a passage.
Sponsored by Democratic Rep. Zack Stephenson, of Coon Rapids, the bill passed by the House committee on Tuesday would allow in-person sports wagering at casinos while also authorizing tribes to issue licenses to mobile gaming operators. It would permit the North Star state to keep sports gaming revenue currently going to offshore operators or neighboring states, which have all legalized their markets.
Minnesota Rep. Zack Stephenson
Prior attempts to pass sports wagering legislation have systematically failed, partly due to a lack of support from tribes, but there’s a renewed sense of confidence things could finally change as they are now offering their support.
The bill leaves all profits of in-person betting in tribal hands, while tribes would also keep around 5% of the total amounts wagered on mobile devices. The bill would create two master mobile licenses to be split between two groups of tribes, allowing them to partner with commercial operators.
“Tribal leaders hope to soon be as comfortable with the details as they currently are with the general framework,” Andy Platto, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association testified on Tuesday. “HF 778 in its current form recognizes that tribes, as the state's gaming experts, are in the best position to operate Minnesota’s sports wagering market.”
Tax revenue from mobile sports gaming would go to three different areas, explains the Minnesota House of Representatives. A portion -20%- would go to enforcement and regulation, 40% would go to the Department of Human Services to address problem gambling; and 40% to youth sports, with special emphasis on areas with high levels of juvenile crime.
Stephenson’s legislation would set the legal gambling age at 21 and while tax rates and license fees haven’t been set yet, the legislator has said he would like it to be “as low as possible” to encourage bettors and operators to abandon the black market.