Opinion: Why A Minnesota Sports Betting Bill Won’t Pass This Year

Written By Mike Breen on May 5, 2024 - Last Updated on May 6, 2024
A dead end sign for a story about how lawmakers won't pass a Minnesota sports betting bill this year.

When Abraham Lincoln uttered those famous words – “A house divided against itself cannot stand” – he could have been describing the Minnesota Legislature and its efforts to pass a sports betting bill this year.

With less than three weeks in the current legislative session, lawmakers will unlikely unify around a sports betting bill. Sen. Matt Klein, author of Senate File 1949, probably summed it up best.

“If you talked to me a month ago, I would have said we’re at 60 to 70%. I think we’re down around 20%.”

Partisanship, disagreements over funding for charitable organizations, concessions to the state’s horse racetracks and problem gambling concerns will sink Minnesota sports betting legalization efforts in the Legislature in 2024.

Sports betting legislation in Minnesota has become a partisan issue

Over the past three months, the authors of companion sports betting bills in the Minnesota House and Senate have worked to address those concerns. Committees have tacked on several amendments in both chambers to create legislation that appeals to a majority of lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle.

Unfortunately, each change that works for some sours others. House File 2000 recently passed the Taxes Committee and is now in the hands of the Ways and Means Committee. During the hearing in the Taxes Committee before passage, several Republican members of the committee forecasted the measure’s death in the Senate.

The divide was evidenced by the 12-9 party-line vote in the Taxes Committee, with members of the majority Democratic-Farmers-Labor Party voting for the measure and all Republican committee members voting against it.

The end result is, the House seems poised to pass sports betting legislation this session, while obstacles in the Senate appear to be insurmountable. The DFL Party enjoys a 70-64 majority in the House, but it has a slim 34-33 majority in the Senate.

Faction of DFL senators demands safeguards in sports betting legislation

In the Senate, however, there has been vocal opposition and support from members of both parties concerning SF 1949.

In March, Republican Sen. Jeremy Miller said he was working to get SF 1949 passed. Miller filed the first sports betting bill of the 2024 legislative session but abandoned it for SF 1949. It’s possible he could bring a few of his fellow Republicans to join him in support of the measure.

But it may not be enough to offset DFL members who oppose the bill.

Sen. John Marty has been the most vocal DFL senator who is opposed to the current sports betting legislation. He called sports betting a predatory industry and insisted on strict safeguards and increased funding to combat the expected rise in problem gambling.

To placate Marty, Klein amended his SF 1949 to include a ban on live, in-game betting. Even so, Marty filed his own sports betting bill, Senate File 5330, in April. In addition to the ban, the legislation sends most sports betting tax revenue to problem gambling treatment and prevention programs. His bill also sets strict betting limits and was co-sponsored by three other DFL senators.

Furthermore, Marty is the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, where SF 1949 has been stalled since mid-March.

Obstacles include HHR machines and concessions to charitable groups

Opposition to sports betting also concerns concessions to charitable organizations. Republicans contend sports betting legislation must address the loss of revenue charitable groups suffered from last year’s tax bill. They were no longer allowed to offer pull-tab games, which, Republicans say, have hurt the organizations’ ability to make money.

HF 2000 gives tax breaks to the groups. But Rep. Patti Anderson called the tax relief “scraps” that would not solve the problem.

Another amendment to HF 2000 bans historical horse racing machines at the state’s two racetracks. It was added after the Minnesota Racing Commission voted to approve the machines starting May 21. It was a loosely veiled attempt by the commission to gain more leverage in sports betting legislation. The racetracks have been vocal in their desire to be able to offer sports betting at their tracks.

The state’s tribes, which would enjoy exclusivity over sports betting in current legislation, strongly oppose racetracks having a role in Minnesota sports betting.

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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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