Partisan Divide Dampens Minnesota Sports Betting Efforts

Written By Mike Breen on May 17, 2024
A graphic representing America's political divide

On the final Friday of this year’s legislative session, the fate of legal sports betting in Minnesota rested in the state’s House of Representatives.

Unfortunately, partisan opposition on an unrelated bill could sink the last-ditch effort to legalize sports betting.

Even if it does somehow pass the House, its chance of passing the Senate on Monday, the last day of the session, is highly unlikely.

Republicans Could Withhold Support on Sports Betting Bill, Speaker Says

This is the fifth consecutive year lawmakers will fail to get a Minnesota sports betting bill on the governor’s desk. The partisan differences seen at the US Capitol are now playing out in the Gopher State.

Republicans vehemently oppose the Equal Rights Amendment as currently proposed by Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers. Senate File 37 would protect abortion and LGBTQ+ rights in Minnesota.

In a Thursday press briefing, House Speaker Melissa Hortman said Republicans have been using filibuster tactics to delay a floor vote on the bill. She suggested that if the bill did pass, Republicans would withhold all support for other bills. That would doom any bills requiring bi-partisan support, including the sports betting bill currently awaiting a floor vote.

“The sports betting deal hinges on Republican support. Republicans will decide whether … sports betting is successful or not.”

Sports Betting Bill Vote Delayed by Chaotic Session

The House initially scheduled Rep. Zack Stephenson’s sports betting bill for a floor vote on Wednesday. However, Republican House members spent the day proposing and extensively discussing amendments to other bills.

After 11-and-a-half hours, Hortman abruptly shut down discussion on a bill to adjust Minnesota’s paid family leave law and called for a vote just before midnight. Amidst shouting from Republican members, she adjourned the House, leaving the sports betting bill tabled until Friday.

On Thursday, Hortman said she wants sessions to end by midnight for the lawmakers’ health. She said a lawmaker was nearly in a car accident due to a previous late-night session.

Republicans will likely continue to extend discussions on other bills on Friday. That could push a vote on the sports betting bill to the weekend or even to Monday.

If it does pass, it would then go to the Senate. With the legislative session ending Monday, there’s little chance of it getting through that chamber in one day.

Opposition from Racetracks Still a Factor

The House is slated to vote on its chamber’s sports betting bill, House File 5274. Previously, Stephenson was working on House File 2000, which worked its way through numerous House committee hearings. Along the way, Stephenson attempted to negotiate a variety of interests in an effort to find bi-partisan support for the bill.

But that bill hit roadblocks and had little chance of passing. As a result, Stephenson added the sports betting language into HF 5274, which Stephenson had introduced as a standalone bill prohibiting historical horse racing (HHR) gaming machines at Minnesota’s two horse racing tracks.

HHR machines have been deemed too much like slot machines, which are illegal in the state outside of tribal casinos.

The state’s tracks and their largely Republican supporters in both chambers have been opposed to current sports betting legislation. They say the measures don’t do enough to help the state’s struggling racing industry. Stephenson’s bill exclusively gives sports betting licenses to Minnesota tribal casinos, which track supporters have said is unfair.

By shifting language in HF 2000 to HF 5274, it eliminates the need for HF 2000’s Senate companion bill to pass the Finance Committee, where it has been stalled since mid-March. The committee’s chair is Sen. John Marty, the leading DFL voice expressing opposition to sports betting due to problem gambling concerns.

Proposed Amendments Could Delay House Passage

More than 30 amendments are being proposed for HF 5274 ahead of the House floor vote on the bill. The amendments will have to be discussed and voted on before the bill can be passed.

The amendments offer a look into Republicans’ opposition, much of which centers around attempts to gain more concessions for the tracks. But there are also proposed amendments to garner more for charitable organizations and address concerns about problem gambling, some including bans on live betting and wagering on college sports.

Stephenson’s proposed amendments could increase support for the bill. One amendment tightens restrictions on sportsbook advertising and marketing, which might assuage some concerns about how sports betting legalization might impact underage residents.

Besides sports betting, the bill would also explicitly legalize and regulate daily fantasy sports in the state. Another of Stephenson’s amendments would now require DFS operators to partner with a tribal casino for licensing.

That additional concession to the tribes could perhaps allow for more careful consideration of amendments to assist the racetracks. But Stephenson still seems intent on maintaining tribal exclusivity over sports betting licensing. One of Rep. Pat Garofalo’s proposed amendments would allow for “provisional” sports betting licenses that don’t require tribal partnership. But Stephenson then proposed an amendment to that amendment that eliminates the line “is exempt from requirement that it must partner with an Indian Tribe.”

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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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