Rolling the dice again on sports gambling in Minnesota

The debate over legalizing sports betting is heating up at the Minnesota Capitol.

We’re almost three weeks away from this year’s legislative session, but it’s a safe bet that online and on-site gaming will get a lot of attention.

Sports gambling ran out of luck in 2023, but some of the same players are ready to roll the dice again next month.

Sen. Matt Klein (DFL-Mendota Heights) authored last year’s bill, which is still sitting in the Senate Finance Committee, where another Democrat, Sen. John Marty, of Roseville, can stall it.

"I'm going to try to put pressure on him to move things along quickly," said Sen. Klein. "This is a short session. This is a priority of the caucus. It's a priority of the legislature and of the people of Minnesota."

Sen. Marty has opposed any gambling expansion, pointing to problems with addiction and suicide as well as corrupting sports. But his opposition now includes some wiggle room.

"If we put the right protections in, then, well, let's do it, because I'm open to that, if that's the case," said Sen. Marty.

He’d like to restrict bets on sports with players mostly under the age of 21 and he wants gamblers to have to choose ahead of time how much they’re willing to lose over a certain time frame. Republicans at the Capitol have proposed their own bill, opening the door for online sports gambling and on-site gambling at tribal casinos and horse tracks.

Sen. John Jasinski opposes Sen. Marty’s restrictions and says the state is already missing out on revenue from taxes on betting.

"It's already happening in Minnesota," said Sen. Jasinski (R-Faribault). "You already have the books happening right now. There are no limits on those. I think we need to stay competitive with what's going on there now."

Problem gambling experts say legalizing sports betting will create massive problems for which the state isn’t prepared, but if those can be minimized, there could be some benefits.

"You hope that people will migrate from the illegal sites, which are far more predatory," said Susan Sheridan Tucker, executive director of the Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling.

One reason she says the state isn’t ready: There are only 19 gambling addiction counselors in the entire state, while anywhere from 1% to 5% of gamblers will develop a problem. On the low end, that’s 19 counselors for 450,000 potential addicts in Minnesota.