Minnesota Lawmakers Pass Bill Banning HHR Machines at Horse Tracks

Written By Mike Breen on May 21, 2024 - Last Updated on May 22, 2024
An HHR machine in Kentucky

On Sunday, Minnesota lawmakers passed a bill that bans historical horse racing machines at the state’s racetracks. The bill also prohibits the Minnesota Racing Commission from authorizing expanded gambling options. They can only offer pari-mutuel horse wagering and card games.

The gaming machines became an issue in the debate to legalize sports betting in Minnesota after the racing commission voted on April 1 to allow them at the state’s two racetracks beginning May 21.

The bill now goes to Gov. Tim Walz, who is expected to sign it into law. It goes into effect immediately.

Standalone HHR Bill Filed as Sports Betting Measure Floundered

The historical horse racing (HHR) restriction was initially in Rep. Zack Stephenson’s House bill to legalize Minnesota sports betting. Stephenson had also proposed a standalone bill with the HHR ban and commission restrictions.

Leading up to the final weekend of the legislative session, Stephenson helped author another standalone HHR bill, Senate File 2219, in anticipation of the sports betting bill potentially not passing.

Despite some Republican pushback, SF 2219 passed the House with a 71-58 vote at around 4:30 a.m. Saturday and the Senate on a 36-25 vote Sunday morning.

Tracks Sought HHR Machines to Offset Expected Losses from Sports Betting

The debate over HHR machines emerged during this year’s negotiations on sports betting legislation. Tracks and the largely Republican lawmakers who supported them felt the machines would provide a much-needed revenue boost for the struggling racing industry in the state.

The tracks were cut out of the sports betting framework in Stephenson’s bill, which would have given the state’s tribal casinos exclusive control over sports betting licenses. In response, the tracks petitioned the Minnesota Racing Commission (MRC) to allow them to operate the machines to offset expected losses from sports betting.

But Democratic lawmakers, led by Stephenson, insisted the gaming machines were too similar to slot machines.

Under compact agreements, only tribal casinos can offer slots in the state. Furthermore, they argued, that only the Legislature can enact laws, not the MRC.

HHR gaming machines allow users to bet on randomized horse races drawn from a database of completed races. Players receive anonymous handicap information about the horses without receiving specific information on the race.

Bill Prohibits Racing Commission from Expanding Gambling Options

Most viewed the vote by the MRC allowing HHR machines as a negotiation tactic to get the tracks better concessions in the sports betting legislation.

Interestingly, Stephenson said over the weekend that a deal had been struck. He said the tracks were satisfied with the unspecified concessions they would receive in the House sports betting bill.

Unfortunately, that bill never made it to a floor vote.

The HHR bill amends Minnesota statutes governing pari-mutuel horse racing in the state.

According to the Minnesota House Research Department’s report on the legislation, the bill includes three primary restrictions:

  • Prohibits wagering on historical horse racing machines
  • Prohibits the state’s two licensed racetracks from offering any form of gambling outside of horse racing and card club operations
  • Prohibits the racing commission from “expanding gambling operations via rulemaking or other authority to include any forms of gambling other than horse racing and authorized card games”
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Written by
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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