Bizarre Arrest Threatens Fate of 2024 Minnesota Sports Betting Bill

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: May 7, 2024 08:00 PM
Bizarre Arrest Threatens Fate of 2024 Minnesota Sports Betting Bill

This year’s already tenuous attempt to legalize Minnesota sports betting may officially be over following the arrest of state Senator for Nicole Mitchell.

No preamble is needed here. Let’s dig into all the necessary details.

Minnesota State Senator Nicole Mitchell at the Center of Controversy

Mitchell, a democrat from Woodbury, was recently charged with breaking into her estranged stepmother’s home, according to the Associated Press. Fellow democratic Senator Matt Klein, a primary sponsor of the bill to legalize sports betting in Minnesota, delivered the news at the beginning of may. Here are some additional details from the Associated Press report:

“Mitchell told police she broke in because her stepmother refused to give her items of sentimental value from her late father including his ashes, according to the criminal complaint. Senate Democrats have excluded her from caucus meetings and taken her off her committees but have not publicly asked her to quit. Her attorney has said she deserves due process and won’t resign.

Despite being removed from certain committees, Mitchell has already returned to voting on the Senate floor. While the due process of this issue is important, the question for our purposes: How does this impact the fate of the 2024 Minnesota sports betting efforts?

Minnesota Sports Betting Efforts are on Life Support

As ever, the legalization of sports betting in the USA is a bi-partisan issue. Minnesota isn’t going to get it done without support from both political parties. However, among the multiple efforts to approve sports gambling, democrats are driving the most serious one. The problem? They only have a one-seat majority in the Senate. And because this remains a divisive issue with many viewpoints, the legal troubles of Mitchell absolutely matter.

On the surface, of course, they really shouldn’t. After all, she already resumed her spot on the voting floor. But the state legislature adjourned on Tuesday, May 7. As of this writing, there has been no word about progress or approval on the Minnesota sports betting front.

From the sound of things, we shouldn’t expect this to change in the 11th hour. Policymakers painted a bleak picture of sports gambling legalization in the aftermath of Mitchell’s arrest. From the Associated Press’ Steve Karnowski:

“One of the lead authors, Democratic Sen. Matt Klein, of Mendota Heights, isn’t ready to call sports betting dead. But he said in an interview Thursday that he’s less optimistic than before…In the House, a Republican sports betting advocate who’s considered a key to any bipartisan deal, Rep. Pat Garofalo, of Farmington, said he thinks the bill is effectively dead for the year, though it came closer than ever before. 

“‘It’s like in classic Minnesota sports fashion, we were up by a touchdown with two minutes left, and we had the ball, and we turned it over,’ Garofalo said in an interview. ‘The bad guys scored and it went into overtime. We missed a field goal and now it’s, you know, it’s done.’”

Why Did the Push to Approve Minnesota Sports Gambling Fail in 2024?

Assuming the above sentiments prove accurate, the question becomes: Why have Minnesota sports betting efforts failed this time?

Yes, the Mitchell story is a factor. But why? Did her arrest move certain republicans to vote against the democrat-led bill? Or was the initiative short on votes and time to begin with, and her absence forced the Senate to elevate other matters ahead of sports betting?

The answer isn’t immediately clear. But while there will be an inclination to pin this failure on her, it’s impossible to attribute this to a single person.

Long before Mitchell’s arrest, policymakers were grappling with the future structure of Minnesota sports betting. More specifically, there remained a chasm between local tribal operators and race tracks. The latter wants to be included in running for Minnesota sports betting licenses. The tribes, however, are staunchly against the inclusion. They argue that they’re already open to letting online sportsbooks in the United States enter the market, and that adding another competitor will unnecessarily hurt their business.

Those who have followed this issue won’t be surprised. This dilemma derailed Minntesota sports betting legalization in 2023. It looks like the same is going to happen in 2024.

Absence of Minnesota Sports Betting Looms Large During NBA Playoffs

In yet another blow to state revenue projections, the Minnesota Timberwolves are currently on track to make an incredibly deep 2024 NBA playoffs push. At the time of this writing, they are up 2-0 over the reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals. And as of now, betting lines for the 2024 NBA playoffs have the Wolves as the odds-on favorites to win the West and make the NBA Finals.

Whenever a local team is this high up the betting ladder, it presents a missed opportunity for Minnesota sports gambling. There would no doubt be a demonstrative amount of action on NBA playoffs betting if lawmakers and key stakeholders could find key common ground. Instead, Minnesota will forfeit that revenue to offshore sportsbooks and surrounding states with legal sports betting.

To be sure, Minnesota sports betting would never be launched in time to capitalize on the 2024 NBA playoffs. But as yet another sports gambling bill devolves into failure, the Timberwolves’ deep postseason push serves to reiterate all the potential revenue streams that could be at its disposal. 

Perhaps this will be a missed opportunity that takes center stage during 2025 attempts to legalize Minnesota sports betting.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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