Minnesota Sports Betting Already Making Progress Ahead of Next Legislative Sessions

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Aug 8, 2023 12:00 AM
It seems real progress is being made towards the legalization of Minnesota sports betting.

Back in July, reports started to surface that state legislative members were optimistic Minnesota sports betting would be legalized soon.. We were, and remain, skeptical. Rightfully so, too. 

Every year, the conversation around Minnesota sports betting is dripping with sunshine-and-daisies analysis. Each time, messaging to the effect of “Next time will be the time sports gambling comes to The Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Then, when that “next time” inevitably comes, the latest push to legalize sports betting continues its momentum through the Minnesota House of Representatives only to get squashed before making it out of the Senate. 

Why should 2024 be any different? It’s a question we must ask ourselves, each and every time it seems like the narrative is changing. And to be sure, it’s a question we asked in this space when optimism began creeping up in July. Our verdict at the time: Progress is being made, but we wouldn’t bank on sports betting getting in The Gopher State receiving the stamp of approval until we actually see it happen.

Yet, if we’re being honest, even the latest news has us reconsidering our skepticism. This time, for real, it truly seems like the longstanding debate over sports betting in Minnesota is making some serious, meaningful headway.

Evidence is Mounting that Key Stakeholders are Determined to Get Minnesota Sports Betting Over the Finish Line

The sports gambling discourse in Minnesota feels different at the moment largely because the discussions between the state’s tribes and race tracks feel different. This is all to say: Discussions between tribes and race tracks are happening at all. 

That hasn’t always been the case. Especially so soon. The next rounds of Minnesota legislative meetings won’t take place until sometime in January 2024. That’s roughly six months or so away from this writing. But according to Legal Sports Report, Representative Zach Stephenson, a key sports betting supporter, is brokering dialogue between the tribes and race tracks right now:

“[Representative John] Huot said Stephenson is already talking to tribes and tracks this summer. While the negotiations at the end of the 2023 session are a good starting block, much can change before next year. ‘The good thing is, in the interim, the whole discussion can change,’ Huot explained. ‘We’ll see what happens. The tracks really want to be involved, and I’d love to have them involved.’ Huot said the caucus trusts Stephenson and often lets him lead complicated issues like sports betting.”

Starting negotiations now, this far in advance, is a terrific sign. But that doesn’t mean next year’s sports betting bill is somehow a done deal. The tribes and race tracks have been on polar opposite ends of the spectrum for years. At least one side will need to move off their current stance for Minnesota sports wagering to have a better chance at passage than it did last year.

Minnesota Race Tracks will Likely Need to Make Concessions

When push comes to shove—and make no mistake, it might—the onus of this issue lies at the feet of the race tracks. They want the ability to acquire Minnesota sports betting licenses and accept wagers. Without the bandwidth to join the fold, they argue, their business model figures to take a hit. Interest in horse racing throughout the United States is already on the decline. Will the race tracks survive with even more gambling alternatives available to Minnesotans?

To this point, the state’s tribes have been unwilling to back off their position. That position: They want sports betting exclusivity. This is not specific to just race tracks. Tribes don’t want the best online sportsbooks in the United States operating independently inside The Land of 10,000 Lakers, either.

Similar clashes have cropped up throughout the rest of the country. It’s why you see some states legalize only on-site wagering. It’s also why you see certain states, such as California, fail to legalize sports betting at all. The issue of exclusivity is a big one for tribes, who (rightfully) don’t want corporate entities infringing upon their incumbent gaming rights.

In the latest Minnesota sports betting proposal, though, the tribes have appeared to offer a happy medium. According to the bill from this past winter, 30 percent of all sports betting revenue would be divided among the state’s race tracks. This way, the race tracks get to capitalize on the financial impact of legal sports betting without actually having licenses to offer it. Many thought this would be the concession that nudged talks over the humps. It didn’t. Minnesota race tracks believe that firmly they should be included among licensed sports betting operators.

What’s Next for Minnesota Sports Betting?

Will either side budge in time for the state’s legislative chambers to approve a sports betting bill they can slot onto the 2024 general electoral ballot? It is much too early to say. 

This situation is incredibly fluid. It’ll likely come down to the race tracks’ stomach for compromising even more. 

To the tribes’ credit, they have proposed compromise themselves. But the state’s race tracks have tons of support among Minnesota’s Republican lawmakers. 

So while the early dialogue between tribes and race tracks is no doubt a good sign, this could still be an issue into which both sides dig their heels—an end result that, by this time next year, would leave Minnesota in the same exact spot it’s in now: without legal sports betting.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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