'We need to legalize it': Sports betting gets another push in Minnesota legislature

With the Super Bowl just two weeks away, a pair of state lawmakers is once again trying to legalize sports betting. More states are allowing it and regulating it, but in the past, it has been a losing battle in Minnesota.

To some extent, however, betting is already taking place. So, two lawmakers say the state and the tribes need to create regulatory guardrails.

Drive to Iowa, and the sports books will take your bet. But with the internet, you no longer have to drive anywhere.

"Quite honestly, we need to legalize it," said Sen. Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove).  

"Right now, many people are engaging in sport gambling via offshore sports books, illicit underground operations. They have no consumer protection, they have no legal regulatory framework. Let’s legalize sports gambling so we can have those consumer protections in place," said Rep. Pat Garafalo (R-Farmington).  

Both Rep. Garafalo and Sen. Bigham will introduce a bill later this week creating those legal boundaries. The bill only allows sports wagering at Native American casinos and race tracks. After one year, it would allow remote wagering either at or through the casinos.

The bill also creates a sports wagering commission including members of the tribes and race tracks, and it establishes tax rates on the net revenue.

"It is a very popular idea," Sen. Bigham said. "People are sick and tired of driving to Iowa, and now we’ve got South Dakota. If Wisconsin beats us to this…I don’t even know what to think."  

And states are making money. Across the Midwest, the revenues range from $4 million in Iowa, to $9 million in Illinois, to $17 million in Indiana.

But in Minnesota, sports betting faces strong opposition from the state’s native tribes.

In a recent letter to legislative leaders, the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association said it "continues to oppose the expansion of off-reservation gambling, including the legalization of sports betting."

That opposition alone is likely to stop any sports betting legislation.

"In previous years it would stop, and that’s the way it would be. But now with these social media platforms that are facilitating bettors getting together - which is a legal model - we’re going to see more and more people in Minnesota migrating to that model," Rep. Garafalo said.

Rep. Garafalo said the bill is just a starting point and he expects many more sports wagering bills will get introduced this session.