Minnesota Sports Betting Bill Sponsor Says ‘Momentum Is Building’

Written By Phil West on March 28, 2024
A picture of a pendulum for a story about the Minnesota House sports betting bill's author said its gaining momentum in the legislature.

The author of a sports betting bill making its way through the Minnesota House believes that the bipartisan support he’s helped orchestrate is giving “momentum” to the legislation.

In a Sunday morning TV interview with WCCO’s Esme Murphy, Rep. Zack Stephenson said he was optimistic. In his view, it’s getting more and more likely there’s a Minnesota sports betting industry soon.

“I think momentum is building. I think we have a great chance. It’s a difficult bill because gambling bills, by their nature. have to be bipartisan. They’re both Democrats and Republicans who will never vote for it. So, you have to assemble a broad bipartisan coalition. And these days, that’s very difficult, but momentum is building.”

The House State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee passed House File 2000 this week. The committee amended the bill to allow a large tax break for charitable gaming operators.

Racetracks not happy with sports betting bill

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has pledged to sign a Minnesota sports betting bill into law if it advances through the Legislature this session. Efforts to legalize sports betting in Minnesota began five years ago. The House passed legislation in 2022 and 2023. But after the Senate added on amendments to allow racetracks to operate sportsbooks, House lawmakers refused to support the measures.

As Murphy pointed out in the interview, Stephenson is no stranger to shepherding controversial bills through Minnesota’s legislative process. Last year, he steered a landmark marijuana legalization bill through the body – albeit one undergoing some fine-tuning this session.

Stephenson said it’s been a long journey to get to this point.

“We’ve been working really hard to bring all the stakeholders together since the last session ended, working with all of the 11 sovereign tribes in Minnesota with the charities with the tracks. And we’re seeing some progress right now.”

Racetrack operators and their allies in the House are expressing displeasure with the latest retooled version. That’s due to the State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee’s amendment to HF 2000 to aid charitable gaming operators.

Stephenson says bill must address problem gambling

Stephenson admitted to Murphy that there’s still work to do on the legislation.

“There’s still a long road in front of us. We have a lot of concerns to work out. You mentioned the tracks. I think there’s a lot of work still to be done on problem gaming, which is a really serious issue.”

The representative said he’s seen the effects of problem gambling.

“The vast majority of people can gamble without a problem. But for a very small but significant chunk of people, it’s a serious issue. When the Legislature is not in session, I work as a prosecutor. I’ve seen people do terrible things because they have a gambling problem. So, we need to take it seriously. So, we devote really significant resources to prevention education, but also treatment.”

Stephenson pointed out in the interview with WCCO’s Esme that legalizing sports betting actually helps those who need help while giving the vast majority who gamble responsibly a safe outlet that brings in tax revenue.

“The important thing to understand is people are betting illegally on sports right now … and none of the money from that is going to anything constructive. Nothing is going to problem gaming or any other useful endeavor. So, by legalizing it, putting some guardrails on it, regulating and taxing it, we can move in the right direction.”

Photo by PlayMinnesota
Phil West Avatar
Written by
Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

View all posts by Phil West
Privacy Policy