Sports betting bill odds dim as time winds down on Minnesota Legislature

Published 9:06 am Thursday, May 2, 2024

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By Clay Masters, Minnesota Public Radio News

The odds around a bill to legalize sports betting in the state of Minnesota are getting slimmer by the week.

The new assessment comes from the sponsor of the bill in the Minnesota Senate, where the legalization effort has had the toughest path over the years.

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“If you talked to me a month ago, I would have said we’re at 60-70 percent,” Sen. Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights, told MPR News on Wednesday. “I think we’re down around 20 percent.”

The House passed a version in 2022 and stands ready to do it again if it shows a Senate pulse.

Lawmakers have been debating proposals since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for states to make a determination to legalize it. Most states now have forms of legal sports betting, with some restricting it to brick-and-mortar parlors and others allowing mobile platforms.

In an interview, Klein said the fallout over DFL Sen. Nicole Mitchell’s burglary charge has strained relations between the two major parties.

“It’s just one of those bills where we had supporters and opponents both on the Democratic side and on the Republican side,” Klein said. “We were going to try to thread that needle and make it work but time is getting short.”

Lawmakers must complete their work by May 20.

In Minnesota, social conservatives opposed to gambling and more liberal members worried about addiction have joined up in opposition while libertarians and those who want to make good on a populist issue are pushing for the authorization.

The Senate has a 34-33 DFL majority but not all DFLers have committed to voting for a betting bill.

There is also the issue of who should get to manage the gambling, with key DFL lawmakers primed to give exclusive rights to Minnesota’s federally recognized tribes that already run sanctioned casinos. That has upset operators of two horse racing tracks that want a cut of the action.

On Tuesday, a sports betting bill took a step forward in the House Taxes Committee, which referred the bill to the House Ways and Means Committee. That committee was only asked to look at the bill’s tax provisions. The bill has cleared other committees in the House but it’s not clear if it would make it out of that chamber or if a vote will be held if the bill languishes in the Senate.

Republicans introduced amendments that would have provided tax relief to veterans’ organizations and other non-profits that rely on charitable gaming. Republican members say they pushed that path because they believe a sports betting bill will not become law this year.

“I think the sports bill is going to die and they will again get nothing,” said Rep. Kristin Robbins, R-Maple Grove.

Other Democrats say they’re sensing trouble as well. But they don’t plan to give up yet.

“When I heard, during the conversation, that the bill’s not going anywhere, I looked over at the veterans and watched their demeanor change as this hearing went on,” said Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora. “I feel for you. Because, basically, you were told that this has no chance. Is this a perfect bill? Probably not, but it was moving in the right direction. And I’m going to keep fighting for it.”