In January, a pair of Minnesota lawmakers held a virtual press conference all but begging their peers to seriously consider legalizing sports betting. At the time, Sen. Karla Bingham said, “If Wisconsin does it ahead of us, I don’t know what to think.”
But Wisconsin did legalize, when Gov. Tony Evers in July agreed to an expanded gaming compact with the Oneida Nation to offer retail and some on-reservation betting. The tribe is aiming to start taking bets next month, meaning that Minnesota is now nearly surrounded by legal betting states.
Neighboring Iowa was among the first to legalize and go live after the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was overturned in 2018. Operators in Iowa, which allows both digital and retail wagering, are part of the most open, competitive, easily accessible marketplace bordering Minnesota. South Dakota and Wisconsin allow for in-person wagering only. North Dakota is also among the 15 states that have not legalized.
As the calendar turned to fall and the NFL’s Vikings and college football’s Minnesota Golden Gophers took to the field again, conversation in Minnesota returned to sports betting. But there is still no firm plan.
“It’s very difficult to prioritize that over more important issues, and in the middle of a pandemic that’s entirely reasonable,” state Rep. Pat Garofalo told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Garofalo has filed multiple wagering bills in the past.
Stakeholders need a plan
Another issue, according to sources, is that stakeholders aren’t necessarily on the same page. Gaming in Minnesota traditionally has been the purview of the state’s tribes, though two horse racetracks also have card rooms. And while lawmakers have previously filed legislation that would have required operators to be tethered to an existing casino or racetrack, the current trend, even in states with a tribal presence, is to allow some commercial entities access.
— VegasInsider.com (@VegasInsider) October 14, 2021
In Arizona, tribes agreed to new compacts and a law that allow operators to partner with professional sports venues/franchises, and eight companies, including BetMGM, Caesars, DraftKings, and FanDuel, have done so. In Connecticut, the tribes agreed to allow the state lottery to have a digital platform, which is operated by Rush Street Interactive. Operators went live on Sept. 9 in Arizona and are currently in soft-launch mode for digital wagering in Connecticut.
“It feels like [sports betting] is coming to Minnesota,” Lester Bagley, the Vikings’ executive vice president of public affairs, told the Star-Tribune. “What we’ve communicated to both legislative leaders and the governor’s office as well as the tribal relationships we have is that when it does come time for debate, we want to be at the table.”
They’re not alone. Minnesota’s other professional sports teams, responsible gaming advocates, card rooms, horsemen, and others will want to get their say. Major operators have already shown that while they can be comfortable in a tribal-only setting, they often push for a more open marketplace — in both Florida and California, commercial operators are collecting signatures for initiatives that would either expand upon what the tribes want by adding digital platforms, or else allow them in without having to be connected to a tribe.
Tribes oppose mobile
Minnesota has 11 federally recognized tribes that operate 19 casinos across the state. The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association has steadfastly held to its opposition of statewide mobile. And it’s unlikely that the tribes would want to give up exclusivity if that can be avoided.
Minnesota tribes still opposed to regulated sports betting; No revenue share makes tribes reluctant to review compacts; Legislature expected to renew sports betting debate in 2022 @GamblingComp https://t.co/aJQDcpcrkh pic.twitter.com/OmuBpUQfxO
— Chris Sieroty (@sierotyfeatures) October 14, 2021
As in other states, Minnesotans are betting, albeit not legally. The goal with a regulated landscape would be for the state to see some benefit, and also for consumers to have an additional level of protection.
“In Minnesota, your father’s bookie was the kind of person who showed up at your first communion,” Garofalo said. “The big change is taking it from the underground to a regulated economy. As the government is stuck in the mud, people … do what they want regardless of what the government tells them.”
So, what happens next? Minnesota’s 2022 legislative session opens on Jan. 31 and is a continuation of the 2021 session, meaning any of the five sports wagering bills filed in 2021 could be in play. All the bills were referred to committee in 2021, but none had a hearing.