Minnesota lawmakers will push sports betting as tribal opposition softens

Two key Minnesota lawmakers say they will push for legalized sports betting in 2022 as longstanding opposition from Native American tribes appears to soften.

House Commerce Chairman Zack Stephenson said Thursday that he'll introduce legislation early in session, a change from previous years where sports gambling gained little traction in either the House or Senate. Minnesota is now surrounded by states that have legalized betting on sports, and 32 states across the country have done so.

"It should be legal. We can get this done. We should get this done. And I’m going to work very hard to get this done," Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, told reporters at the state Capitol. "It’s safe to say I wouldn’t be standing before you today if I didn’t think there was a way that we could get a policy together that works for a very broad segment of Minnesota."

State Sen. Roger Chamberlain, who has previously introduced legislation, said he would offer a bill again in 2022 and that he saw "some signals" that Minnesota tribes will change their position.

The tribes have long feared that placing wagers on mobile devices would lead to internet gambling, putting casinos out of business. During the 2019 legislative session, a representative of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association told FOX 9 that the 11-member tribal group was against legalized sports betting "period."

But sports betting is now legal in several states with similar state-tribal compacts as Minnesota, including Michigan, Arizona and Washington.

"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," said Andy Platto, the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association's executive director. "As gaming experts, tribes stand ready to share this expertise with lawmakers considering the future of sports betting in Minnesota."

Any legislation will face long odds unless lawmakers can resolve where people would be allowed to place bets.

Stephenson said he favored an initial approach that would limit wagering to brick-and-mortar locations.

"I think there is some wisdom to walking before you run," he said. "Just doing sports betting is a huge change in Minnesota law. Doing mobile would be another huge change."

Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said mobile wagering must be part of any deal.

"This is a mobile environment. This is what people use," he said "You have to go into the casinos to create the account and put new money in the account. So, there’s always going to be traffic back to the casino to get people in there. I would agree to that. But mobile (wagering) is vitally important to the process if they want to attract business and keep it going."

Stephenson said his committee would take the next 90 days to study other states, engage the tribes and craft legislation to introduce early in the session, which starts Jan. 31.

Gov. Tim Walz has previously said he favors legalization but has not pushed it without support from the tribes. On Thursday, he said lawmakers should focus on bigger priorities -- including COVID-19 bonus pay for essential workers and a relief package for drought-plagued farmers -- before working on sports betting.

"I'm a little miffed at the Legislature that we're talking about sports gambling," he said.