No special session plans

Minnesota sports betting bill still seeking Senate approval with only three weeks of session left

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz won’t call legislators into a special session.
Reading time 2:19 min

Minnesota lawmakers are entering into the final three weeks of session. The adjournment deadline approaches, and Gov. Tim Walz stated he won’t call legislators into a special session if negotiations last past the final day of session. Among items to be resolved before this occurs is a sports betting legalization proposal.

The House and Senate are divided on a key issue: while the House proposal limits this form of gaming to tribal casinos, the Senate is seeking to include horse tracks. According to MPR News, it is possible the House will vote on the measure this week, while the Senate bill is stuck due to opposition from lawmakers who don’t want to grant tribes a monopoly and those who don’t want to expand legal gambling.

Sports betting bill HF 778 passed the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday, by a vote of 14-7. The legislation has made its way through a total of eight committees in the past few months, and its next stop will be the House floor, for which no date has been yet scheduled.

The proposal was introduced by Rep. Zack Stephenson, and allows both online and retail sports betting in the North Star State. The market would be controlled by the state’s 11 tribes, which in addition to providing in-person betting on tribal casinos would be able to offer mobile wagering. The bill does not allow the state’s race tracks to offer sports betting in any capacity.

Rep. Zack Stephenson

The measure would tax net revenue at 10%, and half of the proceeds would be earmarked to problem and responsible gambling initiatives. Stephenson claims this is one of the highest percentages of tax revenues dedicated to problem gambling in the country.

The bill sets the minimum age of participation at 21, and other tax revenue would fund youth sports programs in Minnesota communities with high levels of juvenile crime. According to Stephenson, legalization would help reduce black market activity already taking place.

Legalization of online betting calls for two “master mobile sports betting licenses.” The permits are valid for 20 years, and are to be granted to organizations comprised of two or more tribes: one license is to be given to an organization of northern tribes; and a second permit is for tribes in the south of the state. 

Each tribe in a licensed organization is then allowed to partner with an online sportsbook company for the operation of their app. The legislation calls for the governor and the tribes to formulate new compacts, and Gov. Walz has said he is open to a bill that has the agreement of tribal interests.

Before the final vote, Stephenson offered an amendment to the bill that makes it self-sufficient: the setup and administration of the market are to be paid for out of the revenues raised. This provision was passed by a voice note.

HF 778 still needs to make its way through the House before it reaches the Senate, with only a few weeks remaining. Should it pass the House, the bill will see Senate debate on who should control the industry. While many Democrats only support a measure that includes tribal exclusivity, the Senate favors a broader approach, and some Republicans have said they will only support such a bill.

"The path has gotten a little murkier and harder to see how we can get it done, but I think there’s still an opportunity," state Rep. Zack Stephenson said last week, according to FOX 9.

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