New Minnesota Bill Would Ban Historical Horse Racing Machines

Written By Adam Hensley on April 23, 2024 - Last Updated on April 25, 2024
A picture of a slot machine button for a story about a new Minnesota bill that would ban HHR machines

One Minnesota state representative made good on a threat to attempt to ban historical horse racing machines.

Rep. Zack Stephenson introduced House File 5724 last week, shortly after the Minnesota Racing Commission voted to legalize the gambling machines at horse racetracks.

HF 5724 would explicitly make the machines illegal in Minnesota. The bill makes good the promise Stephenson made last week to reverse the commission’s decision.

“It’s our job to make the law. It’s not the job of the racing commission to expand gambling. It’s not the job of the courts to expand gambling. It’s our job.”

The House Local Government Finance and Policy Committee recently voted 7-5 to advance the bill.

Stephenson says only Legislature can make laws

Stephenson is the prime sponsor of one of the Minnesota sports betting bills debated in the Minnesota Legislature this year. Racetracks in the state feel they’ve gotten a bad deal from lawmakers, as none of the measures would allow racetracks to operate sportsbooks.

They argue that revenue from HHR machines is badly needed as business at the tracks has dropped off over the last several years. HHR machines are electronic games that are based on previous horse races. Details of the race, such as horse names, jockeys, locations, dates, and more, are not available.

The racetracks argue that machines are not games of chance, as they require handicapping skills for a player to be successful.

Most Minnesota legislators and the state’s tribes see them as slot machines. They point out that all casino gambling in the state falls under tribal exclusivity.

After the racing commission voted to approve the machines starting May 21, Stephenson promised to turn back their decision.

“People should make no mistake – there’s not going to be historical horse racing. The Legislature will override it either by way of a sports betting bill or stand-alone bill. And they’ll lose in court because they broke the law.”

Minnesota Indian Gaming Association Executive Director Andy Platto said his organization supports Stephenson.

“MIGA leaders appreciate the Legislature’s recognition that historic horse racing is not contemplated anywhere in current law and that an appointed body like the Minnesota Racing Commission does not have the authority to expand gambling in Minnesota,”

HHR question jeopardizes Minnesota sports betting

HHR machines and sports betting are not related. But with how the push for sports betting in Minnesota has played out, they’ve been thrust into the conversation. Stephenson’s previous comments about putting together a sports betting bill that would suffocate HHR machines is a prime example.

None of the sports betting bills permit Minnesota’s two racetracks (Canterbury Park and Running Aces) to operate retail sportsbooks. Other states allow racetracks to offer sports betting.

The commission’s vote to legalize HHR machines would give the racetracks an additional revenue stream. It would not be as much as they could probably make from offering sports betting, but it’s still something. If anything, the commission’s decision is a leverage tactic to potentially be able to operate retail sportsbooks or get a higher percentage of tax revenue from sports wagering.

Canterbury CEO Randy Sampson called on legislators to support horse racing in Minnesota.

“If you pass this bill and the current version of the sports betting bill, you are jeopardizing the future of thoroughbred horse racing in Minnesota.”

Photo by PlayMinnesota
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Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist from Des Moines, Iowa, with experience covering online sports betting and gambling across Catena Media. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working for the Daily Iowan’s sports department, both as an editor and reporter.

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