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Minnesota Sports Betting Deal on the Horizon

Include revenue-sharing agreements, legislative maneuvers to separate historical horse racing bans, and overcoming political tensions. Optimism remains high for passing the bill by the session's end.
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Branimir Ivanov | Senior News Contributor

Updated: May 21, 2024

Minnesota's new deal

St. Paul, MN – Indian tribes and horse racetracks are nearing a revenue-sharing deal that could lead to legalized sports betting in Minnesota. With the legislative session ending soon, there is cautious optimism that an agreement can be reached in time to secure the necessary Senate Republican votes for passage.

Over the past two years, efforts to legalize sports betting in Minnesota have stalled due to conflicts between tribes and tracks. This year, significant progress has been made towards an online sports betting revenue-sharing arrangement, which could help move the legislation forward.

 

  1. Agreement Near on Sports Betting Deal: Indian tribes and horse racetracks in Minnesota are close to finalizing a revenue-sharing deal that could lead to legalized sports betting. This agreement is crucial to secure the necessary Senate Republican votes for passage before the legislative session ends on Sunday night.
  2. Legislative Maneuvering and HHR Ban: Rep. Zack Stephenson has strategically added sports betting language to a bill banning historical horse racing (HHR) to bypass the Senate Finance Committee. This move aims to separate the HHR prohibition from sports betting to simplify negotiations and increase the chances of passing the sports betting legislation.
  3. Political Tensions and Partisan Challenges: The legislative session is marked by high tensions and partisan challenges, including a Republican filibuster over a family leave bill and internal conflicts within the Senate. Despite these challenges, there is optimism that the inclusion of charitable gaming tax breaks in the bill could garner bipartisan support, helping the sports betting legislation reach the finish line.

 

The deadline is tight. The Minnesota legislature adjourns on Monday, with a hard deadline for bill passage set for 11:59 p.m. on Sunday. The outcome depends on whether the legislature can navigate a series of contentious issues, including equal rights, abortion, and bonding bills, without descending into partisan gridlock.

 

Legislative Maneuvers and HHR Ban

On Monday, Rep. Zack Stephenson added sports betting language to HF5274, a bill originally aimed at prohibiting tracks from offering historical horse racing (HHR). This move was intended to bypass the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. John Marty, who would have otherwise blocked the sports betting bill without substantial revisions.

However, this tactic also intertwined the fate of sports betting with the HHR prohibition. With the Minnesota Racing Commission having approved HHR machines starting May 21 and facing a legal challenge from a tribe, the tracks had little incentive to settle for a sports betting revenue-sharing deal, hoping instead for a favorable court ruling.

To simplify negotiations, Stephenson introduced a clean HHR prohibition bill into SF2219 on Friday, clarifying that it would not impact any current games offered by the tracks. “As part of the bipartisan discussions around sports betting and discussions with stakeholders, there was emerging consensus that maybe the HHR ban should travel separately and that might make it easier to reach agreement on the sports betting bill,” Stephenson explained.

Political Dynamics and Legislative Civility

The legislative environment remains tense. On Wednesday, House Republicans filibustered HF5363, a bill concerning technical changes to a paid family leave law, delaying the sports betting bill discussion. The filibuster was intended to push back the debate on the more contentious SF37, related to equal rights and abortion. House Speaker Melissa Hortman eventually cut off the debate just before midnight, emphasizing the need for legislative progress.

“Minnesotans sent us here to deliver. We will deliver. We’ll get the work done. The minority absolutely has the right to be heard. Eight hours was a full debate on the paid family leave technical bill. But just the rules provide that the minority has the right to be heard, the rules of the House also provide that the majority has the right and the responsibility to govern,” Hortman stated.

 

“Minnesotans sent us here to deliver. We will deliver. We’ll get the work done.'

 

Tensions also run high in the Senate, where the Democrats’ slim majority faced a test when Sen. Nicole Mitchell was arrested, affecting their voting strength. Even with an agreement between tribes and tracks, there's concern that partisan strife could impede the sports betting legislation.

Despite these challenges, the bill's inclusion of charitable gaming tax breaks—important for Minnesota charities—offers hope for bipartisan support. As the final weekend of the legislative session unfolds, stakeholders remain hopeful that Minnesota will finally see legalized sports betting by Sunday night’s deadline.

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