It took two meetings of the same committee on the same day to get to a vote, but late Tuesday the Minnesota House State Government Finance and Mobile Committee voted 7-5 to advance an amended sports betting bill that could ultimately allow for statewide mobile wagering.
The bill, HF 778, will get at least one more amendment as it continues on its way to the House floor. Bill sponsor Rep. Zack Stephenson said it was too late to introduce an amendment that would raise the legal betting age from 18 to 21, but he promised the committee it would come at the next stop, which is in the House Judiciary Committee. That hearing has not yet been scheduled.
As in a previous committee hearing, there was much discussion around legalizing sports betting, in large part from anti-gambling groups and those representing charitable gaming organizations and horse racetracks, neither of which would be permitted to have sports betting should the bill pass. But Senate File 574 , which closely resembles Stephenson’s bill, would allow for horse tracks to offer wagering. Introduced in February, the bill was referred to the State Government Finance and Policy and Elections, but has not yet had a hearing.
‘Picking winners and losers’
The familiar refrain among those opposed is that the House bill would “pick winners and losers,” meaning that it would award licenses to tribal casinos, but not other entities. There are 11 federally recognized tribes in Minnesota, and the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association has lent its support to the bill.
But those left out have another view.
“We’re not opposed to sports betting, but opposed to allowing tribes to continue to be in charge without giving charities a reasonable path,” said Sam Kruger, executive director of the Electronic Gaming Group, which represents charitable gaming interests. “The tribes are not the only game in town, and this bill is picking winners and losers in this industry. We appreciate that the bill would fund youth sports, but our charities support more than that. We will ask and continue to ask that my organization and others like it to be part of this conversation.”
Legalizing sports betting is bad for Minnesota. At minimum, the online feature of the bill must be eliminated, and the eligible age must be raised. #mnleg Our partner @JRLCMN weighs in. https://t.co/8oLZIGHUKB
— MNCatholicConference (@MNCatholicConf) March 16, 2022
Representing the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, Executive Director Anne Krisnik said, “We think we need to do a lot more education with Minnesotans about the dangers of gambling. We need to make sure Minnesotans know the risks … [and] urge you to not approve the mobile gaming portions of this bill.”
Operators: Bring wagering into the light
Pat Gibbs of the Orrick Law Firm, who spoke on behalf of major operators — including Bally’s, Fanatics, DraftKings, and FanDuel — explained to the committee that illegal wagering was already happening in Minnesota and throughout the U.S.
“This would not bring a new activity,” he said. “Right now, 1.1 million Minnesotans are wagering $42.5 billion in bets offshore … and they don’t have the guardrails. Regulated operators offer users the opportunity to set time and money caps and exclude themselves completely, and sometimes work with professionals in problem gambling.”
Forty percent of state tax revenue in the current version of the bill is earmarked for problem and responsible gambling initiatives. The rest would fund youth sports programs, particularly in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and would cover the state’s cost of regulating legal wagering.