Hope fades for Minnesota legal sports betting in 2022

Sports betting legalization efforts aren't quite dead in the Minnesota Legislature this year, but this sure wasn't a good week for them.

Supporters had high hopes at the start of the year that 2022 would be the year Minnesota joined more than 30 other states in legalizing gambling on sports. With three weeks left in the legislative session, a sports betting bill has advanced toward the House floor, while the Senate's bill remains stuck in committee. 

"The path has gotten a little murkier and harder to see how we can get it done, but I think there’s still an opportunity," said state Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, the House bill's author.

Lawmakers have found it difficult to untangle several fault lines, some that have religious and cultural underpinnings. The biggest issue, lawmakers say, is deciding who can open a sports book.

The House bill gives the exclusive rights to Native American tribes, which brought the tribes to the table after opposing efforts in previous years. Many Democrats only support a measure that includes tribal exclusivity.

The Senate favors a broader approach that allows racetracks and other venues to open sports books. Some Republicans say that's the only way they'll support a bill.

"I don’t see a path for sports betting this year unless we can get the tribal nations as well as the tracks and others on board and at least having conversations," Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona and a supporter of legalization, told reporters this week.

There are other issues, too. Social conservatives view sports betting as a gambling expansion, unlike supporters of the effort, who say it's a way to turn the current black market into a regulated, taxed market. The House bill directs 50 percent of the tax revenue into services for gambling addiction.

"In this I hear, 'Well we’re going to tax it so we can pay for all the problems that come out of it,'" said state Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, who opposed the measure in committee this week.

The House bill cleared the Ways and Means committee Thursday on a 14-7 vote, its last committee stop before heading to the House floor. But Speaker Melissa Hortman was noncommittal when reporters asked if she would hold a floor vote next week.

The House wants to see if the Senate moves forward with its measure, said Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.

Supporters in the Senate have grown frustrated with the lack of movement as the days tick toward the May 23 end of session.

"The Senate just doesn’t have the votes, folks," state Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, told sports betting fans this week in a Twitter video. "The Republicans can’t even get it a hearing. We need your help."