Minnesota Rep. Zack Stephenson’s virtual road show continued Thursday, as be brought his amended sports betting bill, HF 778, before the House Judiciary, Finance, and Civil Law Committee — only to find himself in a sparring match with one committee member. The bill, which would allow for statewide mobile wagering with platforms tied to tribal casinos, ultimately passed out of committee by a 9-6 vote, and now moves on to the Taxes Committee.
In most states, bills move through one or two committees before reaching a chamber floor. But in Minnesota. it appears that nearly every committee chair on the House side wants to weigh in, forcing Stephenson and multiple witnesses to appear over and over again, sharing the same message with different committees. Previously, the bill passed out of the Commerce, Finance, and Public Policy and State Government Finance and Mobile committees.
On Thursday morning, the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association reaffirmed its support for Stephenson’s legislation; the Electronic Gaming Group, which represents charitable gaming interests, reaffirmed its displeasure with not being included in the bill; and several anti-gambling groups spoke in opposition. But the highlight of the meeting was when Rep. Peggy Scott appeared to call Stephenson out for not making the state’s Commissioner of Public Safety, who would oversee gaming, available to discuss the proposal.
Words with friends?
Scott said she texted Stephenson on Wednesday to make the request, and that the conversation went something like this:
Scott: I asked for the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, and you said it was too late, and I didn’t think that was a very good answer.
Stephenson: Asking me to get a state commissioner at 5:30 p.m. for an 8:30 a.m. hearing the next day [is not reasonable]. The bill was referred a week ago; it’s not a surprise. If the commissioner’s presence was required, we could have asked, but not at the last minute.
Scott: You wrote this bill. You might have had the foresight to to bring this commissioner.
From there, Scott continued with a few additional questions. Rep. Matt Grossell then voiced his concerns about gambling addiction, ultimately saying, “The idea of legalizing something that will make more problems doesn’t seem to make sense to me.”
According to the text of the bill, 40% of revenue to the state would be earmarked for problem and responsible gambling programs. And in the end, the majority ruled in committee action on the bill, and the march will continue.