Election Could Have Major Impact on Minnesota Sports Betting Efforts

Written By Mike Breen on May 26, 2024
A person casting a vote

Partisan division was crystal clear during the final weekend of the Minnesota Legislature’s 2024 session.

Disagreements between the two political parties on unrelated issues ultimately ran out the clock on a sports betting bill that never reached the floor for a vote in either chamber.

Lawmakers who have championed Minnesota sports betting in the past will have to restart the process next session. The results of November’s election will determine what the legislation will look like in 2025.

Republican House control would reshape sports betting debate

All 134 seats in the Minnesota House are up for grabs in November’s election. It promises to be a heated campaign season, with party control of the House on the line. The Democratic–Farmer–Labor (DFL) Party currently holds a slim majority over Republicans in both chambers. (Senate members won’t run for re-election until 2026.)

An April KSTP/SurveyUSA poll found that Republicans have a narrow lead over DFL candidates and could retake control in the House for the first time since 2018.

If Republicans could establish a majority, it would give them more power to reshape the structure of any proposed sports betting bill. Recent DFL-written bills have given Minnesota tribal casinos exclusive control over sports betting licenses.

This year, Republicans fought for more concessions for Minnesota horse racetracks and charitable organizations.

Republican senator’s bill shows direction sports betting could be headed

Republican Sen. Jeremy Miller ultimately supported the DFL-authored sports betting bill. But he proposed his own “Minnesota Sports Betting Act 2.0” legislation at the start of this year’s session. It offers a glimpse into what future Republican-led sports betting efforts might look like.

Miller’s bill would have still given licensing opportunities to Minnesota’s 11 tribal nations to offer retail and mobile sports betting. However, it would also have allowed retail sports betting at the tracks and professional sports stadiums.

Such a bill would probably face unified opposition from DFL members. Similar concessions in previous bills have caused them to fail, as tribal exclusivity is seen as a deal-breaker for the majority of DFL lawmakers. With opposition in both parties over problem gambling concerns, bi-partisan support would be needed for passage.

Negotiations on Republican-led sports betting legislation would look different than it has the past two years, but similar obstacles would remain.

House sports betting legislation leader could face tight race

The full slate of candidates running this year for a Minnesota House seat is yet to be determined. The filing deadline is June 4, then the Aug. 13 primary will determine each party’s candidates.

Rep. Zack Stephenson has been the leader in the House on sports betting legislation the past few years. He authored the 2024 sports betting bill that came closest to passage in the current session.

Stephenson is running for re-election this year. At the moment, he officially has neither a primary nor a Republican opponent declared in the general election. He has held his seat since 2019, narrowly defeating his Republican opponents in three elections. His closest win was in 2020, also a presidential election year.

Stephenson’s District 35 is fairly purple. DFL members hold both House seats, but Republicans have had a lock on the district’s Senate seat. So, Stephenson’s re-election isn’t a sure thing. If he did not win, the House would lose a key ally in efforts to legalize sports betting in Minnesota.

Some House sports betting bill opponents not returning

At least a few Republicans who opposed sports betting legislation this year will not be returning.

Nine Republicans and eight DFL members announced they’re retiring from the House at the end of the current session. The retirees include Republicans Anne Neu Brindley and Brian Pfarr, who were vocal in their opposition to the 2024 House sports betting bill in committee hearings.

Rep. Greg Davids, who once said he was against bringing sports betting to Minnesota at all, faces long odds of returning in 2025. After 16 consecutive terms in the House, Davids lost his party’s endorsement this year.

Sports betting bill co-authors running for re-election

All nine of the co-authors of Stephenson’s initial sports betting legislation have announced plans to run for re-election this year. A few have already received their party’s endorsement.

  • Rep. John Huot, who also co-sponsored a sports betting bill with Stephenson in 2022
  • Rep. Brad Tabke, who has worked with Republicans to garner more for tracks in sports betting legislation
  • Rep. Elliott Engen, the only Republican to co-sponsor Stephenson’s bill

At least one House sports betting proponent won’t be around in 2025. Rep. Pat Garofalo, a Republican who has long supported sports betting legislation and worked with Stephenson this year to garner bi-partisan support, is not seeking re-election.

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Mike Breen

As a contributor to PlayMinnesota, Mike Breen covers most angles of the state's gambling industry. Currently, he is focusing on the state's legislative progress surrounding sports betting bills. However, he can be found writing about many aspects of Minnesota gaming.

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