Lawmaker Makes Last Ditch Effort on Sports Betting

Written By Cheryl Coward on May 14, 2024 - Last Updated on May 16, 2024
A picture of a quarterback throwing a hail Mary pass.

The latest effort to legalize sports betting in Minnesota involves adding language to a horse racing bill.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Rep. Zack Stephenson orchestrated the strategic move last week during a House Ways & Means Committee meeting.

Stephenson has been a strong advocate for sports betting, working to get measures passed in the House during the last three legislative sessions. His latest maneuver merged his bill, House File 2000, into House File 5274, another measure he authored that would outlaw historical horse racing machines.

The House has a floor vote on Wednesday. Stephenson’s bill is on the agenda and will receive a vote.  If passed, the Senate receives the legislation. Legislators in the upper chamber are the bigger hurdle to clear, with the legislative session ending on May 20.

Divisions Between Tracks and Tribes Still Remain

If lawmakers can come together to pass a Minnesota sports betting bill this year, Gov. Tim Walz has said he will sign it into law.

The problem is, and has been, pleasing all the players. From lawmakers who want concessions made to charities, tribes that demand exclusivity over all types of gaming, to horse racetracks struggling financially.

Stephenson’s latest concession to the tracks, via HF 5245, is to allocate $625,000 annually from sports betting to the Minnesota Racing Commission. The bill bans historic horse racing (HHR) after the commission approved 500 of the machines at the state’s two tracks starting May 21.

The state’s tribal nations support the legislation, as they contend the HHR machines are too similar to slot machines. Only tribal casinos can legally offer slots in Minnesota.

However, the racetracks and their allies in the Legislature are not swayed by the offer. Republican Rep. Brian Pfarr was one of them.

“That’s not enough. We’re not taking care of them. I won’t support it until we get that piece figured out.”

Moreover, the tracks want to be able to offer sports betting.

Tensions between the two factions escalated last month. After the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community filed a lawsuit against the commission over its HHR decision, one of the racetracks, Running Aces, filed suit against three tribes, claiming they are offering illegal card games at their casinos. They claim it violates the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

These deep-seated divisions among stakeholders pose a significant obstacle to any compromise.

Measure Faces Uphill Climb in Senate

In addition to giving the state’s 11 tribes sports betting exclusivity, Stephenson’s bill would include a 20% tax on sports betting revenue. The state’s professional sports teams are also supportive of the legislation.

Stephenson believes HF 5274’s chances of passing are around 50%. Senate sponsor Sen. Matt Klein (DFL) is more pessimistic, putting the odds at 20%.

The House is expected to pass HF 5274. The Senate is another story. The Democrats hold a one-seat majority in the Senate. However, the recent arrest of DFL Sen. Nicole Mitchell has taken the focus off sports betting as Republicans in the chamber attempt to oust her.

The clock is ticking, with just a week remaining in the legislative session.

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Cheryl Coward

Cheryl Coward started her career as a news reporter in Washington, DC. She's a die-hard women's basketball fan and founded the website as a result of that passion. She loves writing about sports on all levels and has previous experience covering sports betting regulations, operator marketing campaigns, and women's sports gambling topics.

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