The tribes that own and operate some 18 casinos across Minnesota confirmed their support Tuesday (March 8) for an amended House measure that would legalize retail and mobile sports betting, but the bipartisan bill still has a long road through the state legislature.
Andy Platto, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA), testified before the House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee that the group and its members support Representative Zack Stephenson’s legislation.
Stephenson’s amended version of House File 778 would allow for retail and mobile wagering on both professional and college sports, as well as esports competitions.
The proposal would allow for “two master mobile licenses valid for 20 years” exclusively to applicants who are organizations comprising two or more Indian tribes.
One of the two licenses would be reserved for a consortium of Indian tribes based in northern Minnesota and the other would go to the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux and other tribes based in the Twin Cities and southern Minnesota.
“Tribal leaders are now reviewing the [amended version] and hope to soon be as comfortable with the details as they currently are with the general concept,” Platto said.
“But in concept, [it] does recognize that tribes as the state’s gaming experts are best positioned to operate Minnesota’s sports betting marketplace both in retail and mobile environments.”
The state has 22 gaming compacts with its federally-recognized tribes, which had been opposed to legalising sports betting in Minnesota since since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal ban.
“Since the federal law prohibiting states from offering sports wagering was overturned in 2018, Minnesota tribes … have watched closely as other states, including those surrounding Minnesota, have provided a legal marketplace for sports bettors,” Platto said.
The surrounding states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa have all legalized online or retail sports betting.
“Of particular importance has been the impact sports betting has had on other tribal operations,” he added.
Platto reminded lawmakers that gaming provides the economic lifeblood of tribal governments, tribal communities and the thousands of Minnesotans they employ.
“Upon review, in many cases, the impact of sports wagering expansion has been a positive one,” Platto said. “But only when the authorizing legislation is carefully crafted to ensure that tribes play a critical role in bringing the marketplace to consumers.”
Stephenson’s bill, unlike an alternative bill in the state's Senate, would give tribes full control over Minnesota’s sports-betting industry.
State Senator Roger Chamberlain, who announced his proposal last month, has yet to release his bill language but has said his bill will allow for sports betting at racetracks and for private online sportsbooks partnering with Minnesota tribes.
Doug Franzen, a lobbyist representing Running Aces Harness Track, criticized Stephenson's bill and told the House committee that stakeholders “can’t find a public policy reason to exclude the two tracks from being licensed to offer sports betting.”
“If competition is good then the two tracks should be included,” Franzen said. Minnesota’s second racetrack, Canterbury Park, offers 65 racing days annually and features thoroughbred and quarter horseracing.
There is no estimate available yet for how much revenue sports betting would generate, but Stephenson’s bill would earmark 40 percent of tax revenue for problem gambling programs, 40 percent toward youth sports in disadvantaged communities and the rest would be used for consumer protection and regulatory purposes.
“We have a robust black market in Minnesota,” Stephenson told his colleagues. “This is an idea whose time has come. We have to get it right.”
The committee eventually passed HF 778 by a vote of 14 to 4 sending it to the House State Government Finance and Elections Committee for further consideration, but not before voting down four amendments.
Among the proposals was an amendment to raise the minimum age to place a mobile wager from 18 to 21.
Representative Jordan Rasmusson, a Republican who offered the amendment, expressed concern that leaving the legal age at 18 would increase rates of problem gambling. He stressed that his proposal would only raise the age for mobile betting to 21 so it does not interfere with tribal sovereignty.
Stephenson said he shared Rasmusson’s concern over problem gambling, adding that there is already a strong black market in the state and that those who were 18, 19 and 20 years old were already wagering on offshore website.
He said he was open to limited deposits and wagering amounts for 18 year-olds and would even consider adding the 21 year-old requirement as the bill makes its way through the legislature if lawmakers cannot find a better solution.
Another amendment submitted by Rasmusson to require in-person registration for mobile accounts, along with deposits and withdrawals, was also voted down by the committee after Stephenson called the proposal unworkable.
“It would disadvantage people who live far away from tribal casinos,” said Stephenson, who is also chairman of the committee.
Stephenson, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, reminded his colleagues that Tuesday’s committee approval was just the first of seven committees expected to take up the measure in the House.