• Senate Bill 1894 would legalize sports betting at tribal casinos and commercial racetracks.
  • The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association does not support the bill.

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – A sports betting bill has cleared a key Senate committee in its journey to consideration on the chamber floor. Tribal gaming operators, however, are opposed to the measure.

Senate Bill 1894, sponsored by Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-38), passed the Senate Tax Committee by a vote of 5-2 (with three abstentions) on Thursday. The bill would allow sports wagering to take place in person at tribal casinos and racetracks in the state. It also legalizes online betting, which would be administered by these casinos and racetracks.

Despite the bill’s strong tribal considerations, the 11 federally-recognized Nations that form the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA) have voiced almost complete opposition to the concept.

Online Sports Betting: A Slippery Slope?

SB 1894 would grant the tribes a near-exclusive opportunity to offer on-site sports wagering at more than 40 casino locations statewide. It also allows sports betting at the two racetrack venues in the state, Canterbury Park in Shakopee and Running Aces in Columbus.

MIGA does not foresee any support for the proposal. MIGA Executive Director John McCarthy revealed his concern during Thursday’s committee hearing that the bill would set a dangerous precedent.

“The real danger, the real fear, is that [online sports betting] is going to lead fairly soon to wide-open Internet gambling, where you can play anything you want on your phone. And that keeps a lot of people home.”

Whether or not such a contingency is actually likely to happen if sports wagering is granted a legal online presence in Minnesota is up for debate. Chamberlain believes that the tribes’ fears are overblown.

“We are hopeful they will come on board. Their business model will not last forever. Young people do not go to casinos.”

Despite Chamberlain characterizing the bill as a “business enhancer” for tribal casinos in Minnesota, the legislation does not actually include any mechanism to help drive new customers to these aging venues.

In order to be more palatable, SB 1894 may need to be revised to include language that customers must physically open their accounts at casinos or racetracks that operate the Internet-based service. Further, it may be necessary to require payouts to be handled on-site as well, rather than over the Internet.

Such concessions may not be enough, however. McCarthy, when asked by FOX 9, if negotiations might be possible, was pessimistically matter-of-fact.

“I believe we are opposed to this, period.”

If the state can’t convince the tribes to support sports betting legalization, it will make the initiative far more difficult. As it stands right now, there is clearly a lot of work to do, and Minnesota residents should not hold out much hope for sports betting legalization in 2019.

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