Legal sports betting squabble spills over into new bills

The battle over passing a sports betting bill in Minnesota has spilled over into new rings at the Capitol.

Horse tracks are the last major opposition, and now there’s a second lane challenging their business.

The House bill’s author is definitely playing hardball, but he insists he’s got nothing against the tracks.

They have some power of their own at the Capitol, which means the odds of Minnesota legalizing sports betting seem to be shrinking.

Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids), got charitable gaming groups to join tribes in supporting legalization.

But horse track leaders have flexed their muscle and run a race against the bill since last session.

This year, Rep. Stephenson added a ban on historical horse racing to the bill right as the state Racing Commission voted to allow it.

He says his bill includes the ban because HHR is more like random slots than racing.

"It is not intended to change anything about actual horse racing in Minnesota," he said.

On Monday, Rep. Stephenson pushed the ban to a standalone bill, along with a ban on electronic card games.

Rep. Stephenson says instead of a traditional table with one dealer, it’s a dealer, digital images, and up to 11 players on three tables at once rendering meaningless the state law limiting the number of tables.

Leaders at Blaine’s Running Aces call it unsportsmanlike conduct, and they feel targeted.

"Over half of our revenue would be impacted by this bill and maybe more," said Tracie Wilson, chief financial officer at Running Aces.

Spending at horse tracks has dropped after the legalization of sports betting at tribal casinos in other states.

The House bill offers Running Aces and Canterbury Park a total of $625,000 from an expected $40 million a year in sports betting revenue.

The Senate bill gives them $3 million to split.

But Wilson says they’d only support sports betting if they get a bigger share — $5 or $6 million just for Running Aces.

Or, they’d settle for legislators keeping their hands off historical horse racing.

"If we are allowed to operate this new pari-mutuel product, we would not need anything under the sports betting bill," Wilson said.

But one thing to note: Rep. Stephenson says the state should completely review how they regulate gambling because the Racing Commission approved both the digital card games and historical horse racing.