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Sports betting could soon be legalized in Minnesota but concerns remain

Concerns remain regarding Minnesota's sports betting bill
Concerns remain regarding Minnesota's sports betting bill 03:43

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota fans hope legalized sports betting finally crosses the finish line this year at the State Capitol. But one big concern remains: Changing the rules could make athletes, coaches and referees more vulnerable to bribes and threats. 

It feels a little like the marijuana saga — the state wants a share of what is already in play.

"While the argument is somewhat similar, it is a little bit different because of the law at the federal level, but yes, sports betting is happening," Sen. Jeremy Miller said.

RELATED: Minnesota sports betting bill sponsor says "momentum is building" at legislature

What is evolving is more complicated. Shohei Ohtani had to fire his interpreter after millions in gambling were traced to him. An NBA player raised red flags because data suggests he could be gambling on his own team.

Former Gopher and current Cleveland Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff says at least one gambler targeted him and his family.

"They got my telephone number and were sending me crazy messages about where I live, my kids, all that stuff," Bickerstaff said.

He's concerned about the integrity of the game and all that comes with allowing gambling.

"It was sort of an emotional answer because of what I've been through and what happened, and the question that I was asked," Bickerstaff said. "I think the league, talking to them, they've done a great job of protecting us."

Artificial intelligence is also creating a different kind of analytics for sports, picking up on trends and pinpointing patterns that add to regulation.

"The ability to generate that kind of data, whether it is artificial or just good research, I think that's going to do great help for how this whole activity's going to pan out," said Tom Barrett, former Director of the Minnesota Gambling Control Board. "Right now, we see some difference in who is putting the ads down, what betting house is setting the ads and what's driving it."

The hope is to create funds to make presentations to keep big events coming to a place that has hosted many: Minnesota.

"When you bring these big events to Minnesota, it has a huge economic impact on our communities and the entire state," Miller said.

What may determine whether or not the bill passes this session is not whether or not you'll have the opportunity to bet on games, who wins and loses, but whether or not you'll be able to bet inside the game, meaning statistics, as in how many points does Naz Reid score, or will Anthony Edwards get a technical foul tonight. And that gets dicey.

RELATED: Changes to Minnesota's highly anticipated sports gambling bill would prohibit in-game bets

That's where the heavy action is — betting inside the game — but not everyone wants in on it. 

"It takes away the excitement of the game, you know, when you're focusing in on something else, you can't focus in on both of them at the same time," one man said.

But it's also an opportunity to build the fan base with a new arm.

"It brings more fans into it, brings people that are watching from home closer to the game. All in all, I think it's a great idea," another man said.

The biggest concern is who is the most vulnerable to be targeted to change a game.

"Anytime you bring gambling, especially this kind of gambling activity, how do you maintain that level of integrity? Who are the participants? Who's putting wagers down? What's the payout? Who affects those odds," Barrett said.

And for the players in the arena, this is happening fast — maybe too fast. 

"I think, again, there's just so much around our game, but I do think there are conversations that need to continue," Bickerstaff said.

Thirty-eight states have already approved sports betting.

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