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Minnesota House Sports Gambling Legislation Would Give Power To Tribes, Which Signal Their Support

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- A lead lawmaker in the Minnesota House expressed confidence that his proposal to legalize sports gambling in-person at the state's casinos and online will pass this year and get the necessary support from tribal nations, key stakeholders that have pushed back on the idea before.

The legislation would form new gaming compacts with the tribes -- in addition to the current gaming compact -- which would operate mobile versions in partnership with commercial operators, said Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids. They would keep the revenues from the bets placed at their brick-and-mortar casinos, but the state would tax a slice of net profits from online wagers made statewide.

"As someone who would not bring a bill forward if we didn't think we had a path to tribal support, I feel very comfortable standing before you today with the bill," said Stephenson, who chairs of the commerce committee.

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, which represents 10 tribal nations, said it supports the state's efforts to legalize sports betting and "believes tribes are best positioned to offer this new market to the state's consumers."

"MIGA and its members will be monitoring state legislation and look forward to working with other stakeholders," the group said.

Passage of any legislation would mark the most significant change in gaming law in 40 years and would require several committee hearings with public input before it clears the legislature.

Stephenson said the state could see as much as $20 million flow from bringing sports gambling in Minnesota from black market into a regulated operation. Forty percent of the revenues would fund youth sports and youth programming, with an emphasis on areas with high levels of juvenile crime, and an additional 40% would address gaming addiction.

The remainder would be set aside for consumer protections to ensure betting on sports doesn't influence what's happening during the games, he added.

"Sports betting is a high volume, low margin business," Stephenson said. "This is not going to be a massive amount of money. I mean, it will be significant, but not a budget forecast changing event."

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, who drives to Iowa where sports gambling is currently legal, joined Stephenson for the news conference to express his support for the legislation. It has bipartisan support in the Senate, too, where a proposal would also allow wagers at racetracks.

"I'm here today to represent myself, as well as many members of both the Republican and Democratic parties, who are here today to say we want to support regulated safe sports gambling in Minnesota," he said. "Let's move Minnesota forward."

Minnesota is one of just a few states that does not have some sort of legal sports gambling operation, according to data tracked by the American Gaming Association. All surrounding states to Minnesota have legalized it, but only Iowa has an online option.

Stephenson said he looked to the more than 30 states that have passed similar legislation and consulted with stakeholders for months across the state, including tribal governments, professional sports teams, colleges and universities and problem gaming experts.

"What we have done is develop a model that is specific to Minnesota that works with the dynamic that we have here in Minnesota that's designed for Minnesotans," he said.

On Tuesday, the bill is scheduled for a hearing in the Commerce committee -- the first meeting of its kind on a bill like this in the legislature. Stephenson predicted its passage, though it will need approval in several other committees.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, who is leading the effort in the Senate, rejected the House legislation, saying it will not give consumers a "good product."

"We need to expand the options for consumers to have the best experience," he said.

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