New sports betting bill puts Minnesota tribes in control

Published 6:02 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2022

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ST. PAUL — The lead sponsor of a House bill to legalize sports betting in Minnesota said Monday that he’s confident that the state’s Native American tribes will drop their longstanding opposition and let it become law because it would put them in control.

Democratic Rep. Zack Stephenson, of Coon Rapids, said he’s met in recent months with leaders of all 11 of Minnesota’s Ojibwe and Dakota bands to develop a “Minnesota-specific model,” and that he would not be pressing forward now unless he was comfortable that they’ll support it in the end. The bill will get its first committee hearing Tuesday.

“If this bill passes, Minnesotans will be able to visit sports betting lounges in casinos all across Minnesota, and they’ll also be able to wager on sports from their own mobile phones anywhere in the state,” Stephenson said at a news conference.

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Opposition by tribal governments that depend on casinos for much of their revenues has blocked efforts in the past to legalize sports betting in Minnesota. But the bill by Stephenson and Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo, of Farmington, would leave most of the profits in tribal hands.

Garofalo said the approach will transition Minnesota “from the black market of unregulated activity to a regulated market with consumer transparency, consumer protections, as well as defunding organized crime and money laundering.”

Stephenson said the tribes would get to keep all profits from betting at their casinos, and would keep around 5% of the total amounts wagered on mobile devices. They would be allowed to partner with commercial mobile betting platforms, such as FanDuel, DraftKings and MGM.

The state would get just a 10% cut of the tribes’ net profits from online betting. Stephenson estimated it could be around $20 million a year, with 40% going to programs to counter problem gambling; 40% to youth sports, particularly in communities experiencing high levels of juvenile crime; and 20% for regulating the new industry to protect consumers and to ensure that betting doesn’t influence what happens on the playing field.

A statement from the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, which represents 10 tribal nations, was notable for not opposing the bill outright, but withholding approval until the details are nailed down.

The group said it and its members “support state efforts to authorize sports wagering both at tribal gaming properties and through online/mobile platforms and believe tribes are best positioned to offer this new market to the state’s consumers.” It added that they “will be monitoring state legislation and look forward to working with other stakeholders.”

Stephenson said the bill will need approval from at least six committees in the House alone. It will also need to pass the Senate, where it got a muted reaction from the chamber’s leading advocate for legalizing sports betting, GOP Sen. Roger Chamberlain, of Lino Lakes.

“I welcome the Democrats to the table, and we’ll work together to write legislation that can get this done,” Chamberlain said in a statement. “However, the offer in its current form will not give the consumer a good product. We need to expand the options for consumers to have the best possible experience.”

Unlike under Chamberlain’s bill, the state’s two horse racing tracks would not get a piece of the action.

Stephenson said he has been consulting with the state’s professional sports teams and colleges, but said his bill would not them them run their own sports book operations. He said the state’s tribes are the experts on how to how to properly regulate gaming and it makes sense to start with them.