Minnesota state Senator Roger Chamberlain believes there is finally enough support among his colleagues in both chambers of the legislature to overcome traditional opposition from Indian tribes and anti-gambling forces to legalize sports betting.
“We are an island in the Midwest,” Chamberlain, a Republican, said at a news conference on Wednesday (February 16) at the State Capitol in St. Paul. “It’s now time to do this. The proposal here is good for tribes, it’s good for the tracks and most importantly, it’s good for consumers.”
So far, 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized sports betting, with Minnesota bordered by four sports-betting states in Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.
Chamberlain, who introduced a sports wagering bill last year that remains active, is leading the effort in the GOP-controlled Senate, while Democratic Representative Zack Stephenson is preparing to introduce a companion measure soon in the House.
Republican state Representative Pat Garofalo, who has authored several sports-betting bills that have come up short in the state's House of Representatives, also filed a bill last year.
Chamberlain said new bill language will be released within a week.
The proposal announced on Wednesday would allow for in-person sports betting at tribal casinos and at the state’s two racetracks, which would pay a licensing fee to the state. Tribal nations would control mobile licensing and issue sub-licenses to other online sports-betting operators, Chamberlain said.
If signed into law this year, Chamberlain expects wagering to launch in January 2023.
Under the Senate proposal, each wager that occurs outside tribal lands would be taxed. Chamberlain said lawmakers are still discussing a tax rate, but any revenue would be directed into the general fund, although what it would be used for has yet to be determined.
Chamberlain noted that sports betting is “not a big cash cow,” but he was hopeful some of the revenue would be used to increase purses at the state’s two racetracks.
In Minnesota, opposition to legalizing sports betting has come mostly from tribes that have gaming compacts with the state. Minnesota has 22 compacts with all 11 of the state’s federally-recognized tribes.
Any changes to Minnesota’s tribal gaming compacts would have to be negotiated and approved by the tribes, lawmakers and the governor, before being forwarded to the U.S. Department of the Interior for federal approval.
The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA) has consistently opposed sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal ban in May 2018. But in a statement issued Wednesday, MIGA executive director Andy Platto did not dismiss the latest effort to pass a bill.
“The tribal governments making up MIGA have been examining the various ways sports betting has been implemented across the country and its impacts on tribal communities,” Platto said. “As gaming experts, tribes stand ready to share this expertise with lawmakers considering the future of sports betting in Minnesota.”
Each of the 11 gaming tribes in Minnesota has two compacts: one for Class III video games or slot machines; and one for blackjack.
Those compacts were originally negotiated in 1989, making them the oldest tribal-state gaming compacts in the nation. The compacts do not provide for any revenue sharing with the state beyond an annual fee for state regulatory costs.
When asked if he had consulted with the tribes before Wednesday’s news conference, Chamberlain said there had only been indirect conversations so far.
“We said a long time ago, we want to help the tribes out and protect their interests but we also want to make this available to consumers in the state,” he said.
“Look, I want to protect their interest. We are going to negotiate with them but I’ve said this more than once, in the reality of things, we do not need the tribes to do this,” Chamberlain said. “I’m not going to get political about this but there are some agreements they will support and some they won’t.”
Of tribes, Chamberlain said lawmakers have “never needed their help to pass legislation.”
“It is just a lobbying group that has a particular amount of leverage and power,” he added.
Governor Tim Walz, a Democrat, has said he would not sign any sports-betting bill unless it is supported by tribal interests.
Joining Chamberlain at Wednesday's news conference, Democratic state Senator Karla Bigham said this latest effort to legalize sports betting has to be bipartisan and the tribes need to be heard.
“We’ll get everyone at the table to discuss this,” Bigham said. “I’m very hopeful we will get this across the finish line this year.”