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Minnesota lawmakers to reintroduce sports betting bill

MINNEAPOLIS — Two lawmakers announced plans Tuesday to introduce legislation that would put Minnesota among 25 other states and Washington, D.C., in legalizing sports betting, hoping to change their luck after attempts in past years failed to gain support.

The legislation, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Karla Bigham, of Cottage Grove, and Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo, of Farmington, would allow on-site sports wagering at tribal casinos for the first year, then mobile betting for those who sign up for an account at a casino. Revenue — which would be taxed at 6% for on-site betting and 8% for mobile — would go into the state’s general fund, and 0.5% would go toward compulsive gambling assistance programs.

The bill would also create a wagering commission that would include tribes and racetracks among its members.

Bigham and Garofalo argue the additional tax revenue would help the state, but “the big win” would be to provide consumer protections to individuals who are gambling anyway, whether through offshore websites or illicit underground operations.

“It’s already done flagrantly and it’s time shine some light on it, put some guardrails around it, protections around it, and quite honestly we need to legalize it,” Bigham said. “If that state makes a few bucks while we’re at it, good for us.”

Minnesota’s tribal nations oppose the legislation, and all four of the state’s top legislative leaders have expressed disinterest even though the measure could help close a $1.3 billion budget deficit.

While Democratic Gov. Tim Walz said during his budget address Tuesday that he’d be open to the legislation, GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, said lawmakers’ focus on the budget and the nature of a socially distanced legislative session make its success unlikely this year.

“Any major policy item that has a lot of disagreement I don’t foresee happening this year. But in addition, many of us just don’t think it’s the right thing to do for Minnesota,” he said.