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Legal sports betting push renewed as Minnesota tribes appear to warm up on issue

Prominent lawmakers of both parties have announced their intent to introduce bills, and the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association appears ready to discuss the issue after years of opposition.

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A screen shows sports wagering odds. File photo

ST. PAUL — Lawmakers' efforts to legalize sports betting have struggled to gain traction in the Minnesota Legislature, but bipartisan support and indications tribal gaming leaders are willing to discuss the issue offer a signal that fortunes could be turning.

Minnesota House Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Zack Stephenson, D-Coon Rapids, announced a new push to legalize sports betting at a Thursday, Nov. 4, news conference. While no bill has been finalized yet, both Democrats and Republicans in leadership positions support legalization in the 2022 session.

"If you want to place a little money in support of your favorite team, you shouldn't have to drive to Iowa or use an international gambling app to do it," Assistant Senate Majority Leader Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said in a statement announcing his plans to introduce a bill of his own. "Sports wagering is good entertainment. It is a business and it will create jobs. I hope to earn bipartisan support as we work to open these betting markets in Minnesota."

Many states across the U.S. legalized sports betting in some form after a 2018 Supreme Court decision throwing out a decades-old federal law forbidding the practice. All of Minnesota's neighbors are legal sports-betting states, Stephenson said, and for the past three years, lawmakers have tried without success to legalize the practice in Minnesota as well.

Stephenson described Minnesota as an "island" in the middle of legal sports betting states and pointed out that gambling on sports is already happening in Minnesota despite it being illegal.

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"The fact that we don't have legal sports betting in Minnesota doesn't mean we don't have sports betting in Minnesota," Stephenson said. "It just means that people who want to engage in sports betting do so on the black and gray markets, relying on shady websites or digital workarounds."

The state's influential tribal gaming association has proved a significant obstacle to legal sports betting efforts in the past, but Stephenson hinted that the group could be becoming more receptive.

"I have talked to tribal leaders and the representatives of the tribes many times. I'll let them speak for themselves," Stephenson said. "But I wouldn't be standing before you today if I didn't think there was a way that we can get a policy together that works for a very broad segment of Minnesota."

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, which represents tribes involved in the gaming industry, has opposed the legalization of sports betting in the past but hinted that it may be willing to discuss the issue in 2022.

"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," association executive director Andy Platto said in a statement." As gaming experts, tribes stand ready to share this expertise with lawmakers considering the future of sports betting in Minnesota."

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, who has been pushing for legal sports betting in Minnesota since the Supreme Court opened the door for the practice more than three years ago, said democrats proposing legislation is a positive sign.

"Whether it's pro sports teams, it's tribal entities, whether its other groups ... without their support, the bill will never happen," he said. "And so the fact that the Democrats are talking about it publicly would imply to me that they received some assurance from the tribes that they're willing to support something."

Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email aderosier@forumcomm.com .

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