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Sports betting bill faces long odds of passage

David Colburn
Posted 5/9/24

REGIONAL- What began the legislative session wrapped in an aura of optimism is now the target of widespread pessimistic speculation as the clock ticks down on the dwindling chance to pass a bill …

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Sports betting bill faces long odds of passage


REGIONAL- What began the legislative session wrapped in an aura of optimism is now the target of widespread pessimistic speculation as the clock ticks down on the dwindling chance to pass a bill legalizing sports betting in Minnesota.
On the first day of the new legislative session in February, Gov. Tim Walz was on board with the idea that this could be sports betting’s year for passage.
“I would guess they’ll probably get close to getting something done,” Walz said, when asked about the prospects of sports betting during the first day of the 2024 legislative session. “It seems, to me, like this is probably the year to talk about that in a non-budget year.”
That was the same day Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, officially introduced the Minnesota Sports Betting Act 2.0, a bill he previewed in January.
“This updated proposal combines ideas from my original Minnesota Sports Betting Act along with provisions from other sports betting bills that were introduced last session,” he said. “It also includes ideas brought forward by constituents and stakeholders. The goal of this proposal is to bring folks together to work toward a bipartisan solution to legalize sports betting in Minnesota. I strongly believe we can get it done this year.”
Now contrast that optimism with some of the headlines from the past 10 days or so:
• Minnesota Sports Betting Discussions Getting Hot … and Not in a Good Way.
• Minnesota Sports Betting Bill Unlikely to Pass.
• Bizarre Arrest Threatens Minnesota Sports Betting Legislation.
• Is Sports Betting Legalization Dead Again in Minnesota?
So how is a proposition riding on a wave of optimism in February now on life-support with a bleak prognosis for survival? In short, the journey sports betting has taken reflects the challenges of navigating divided political landscapes and divergent public interests.
While Miller’s bill languishes in the State and Local Government and Veterans Committee in the Senate, it is the House version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, that’s seen the most debate and generated most of the recent negative buzz. Despite a series of approvals in various House committees and a recent nod from the House Taxes Committee, where it passed on a 12-9 party-line vote, Stephenson acknowledges the bill faces an uphill battle as it awaits yet another hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee. House Speaker Melissa Hortman is on record saying the House will probably pass Stephenson’s bill in the final days of the session.
“We can send something over (to the Senate) and maybe that helps break the logjam,” Hortman said.
But the odds of such a move are highly uncertain, according to Sen. Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights.
“If you talked to me a month ago, I would have said we’re at 60-70 percent,” Klein recently told MPR News. “I think we’re down around 20 percent now.”

Arrest clouds the picture
The bill’s outlook in the Senate took a turn for the worse with the recent arrest of Sen. Nicole Mitchell on a first-degree burglary charge for allegedly breaking into her stepmother’s Detroit Lakes home before sunrise on April 22. Officers found Mitchell in the basement wearing a black hat, black clothes and in possession of a flashlight covered with a sock and she admitted entering the house through a sliding glass window in the basement. Mitchell had allegedly intended to take several sentimental items belonging to her late father but posted to her Facebook page that she drove from Woodbury to Detroit Lakes in the middle of the night to conduct a welfare check on a family member after she “learned of medical information which caused me grave concern” due to their “Alzheimer’s and associated paranoia.”
Since returning to the Senate, Mitchell has survived Republican attempts to have her voting privileges stripped, but has been partially sidelined by the Senate DFL Caucus, which removed her from committee assignments and caucus meetings.
The conflict continued on Tuesday with an ethics committee hearing at which Mitchell refused to testify. The committee deferred any action on the matter for the time being.
Mitchell’s murky status further clouds the picture in a Senate that the DFL controls by only one vote and where opposition to sports betting among some DFL senators almost guarantees passage of the bill would require a bipartisan effort.
Stephenson’s bill would authorize and regulate wagering on certain athletic and electronic sports events, alongside establishing related crimes and creating grants administered by the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission. It also includes provisions to fund a study on gambling among young adults.
The bill would give exclusive rights for sports betting operations to Minnesota’s 11 federally recognized tribes that already operate casinos, a provision opposed by the operators of the state’s two horse-racing tracks and numerous Republican supporters.
It also includes significant tax breaks for charitable gaming operations up to $40 million a year, funded by a 20 percent tax on revenues, a feature that has been pitched as being particularly beneficial to Veterans’ groups that have building maintenance costs. At a recent House Tax Committee hearing American Legion Legislative Chairwoman Kristy Janigo spoke in favor of the bill, noting that tax breaks would allow Veterans to do more to support their communities.
And when multiple Republican members voiced their opinions that the bill was effectively dead, Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, responded.
“When I heard, during the conversation, that the bill’s not going anywhere, I looked over at the Veterans and watched their demeanor change as this hearing went on,” Lislegard said. “I feel for you. Because, basically, you were told that this has no chance. Is this a perfect bill? Probably not, but it was moving in the right direction. And I’m going to keep fighting for it.”
Minnesota is not alone in contentious legislative battles over sports betting this year.
Minnesota is not alone in contentious legislative battles over sports betting. Georgia and Alabama both have rejected sports betting, leaving the number of states that have ratified the practice at 38. And it appears altogether likely that Minnesota will not add to that total in 2024.

MPR News contributed to this report.