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'When And Not If:' Minnesota Lawmakers Set To Introduce Bills That Would Make Sports Betting Legal

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- State legislators in both the Minnesota House and Senate are putting final details on new plans to legalize sports gambling, allowing wagering options inside state casinos and online.

"It really is a question of how and when and not if," said Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, who is leading the effort in the House.

His forthcoming bill, he said, would have brick-and-mortar options at the state's casinos, operated by tribal governments, and an online option so Minnesotans can place bets at home.

He said he's been talking to stakeholders — all 11 tribes, professional teams, and state colleges and universities — for months since he first said in November he would revive an effort to legalize it, and that the momentum is building.

"I'm really optimistic that Minnesotans will be able to place safe and legal bets in Minnesota by the time the 2022 NFL season kicks off," he said. "If not then, by the time the Vikings play the Packers for sure."

A group of Senate Republicans, plus DFL Sen. Karla Bingham, on Wednesday announced their proposal would allow sports betting at tribal casinos and both race tracks in the state. There would also be an online gaming component under that plan.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said the tribes would control which online vendors would get a license, but for Minnesotans placing bets outside the casinos anywhere else in the state, those transactions would be subject to a state tax.

"The proposal here is good for tribes, it's good for tracks, but most importantly, it's good for the consumers," he said.

Why do lawmakers think passing a bill and signing into law is possible now after years of failing in the capitol before?

Stephenson said by meeting with stakeholders, the "hard work" is done on an incredibly complex issue that would be the biggest change to Minnesota gaming laws since the late 1980s.

Any proposal needs the support of tribal governments because of the state's gaming compact. In a statement, Andy Platto, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, said the 11 tribal nations it represents have been examining sports betting across the country and the impact on tribal communities.

"As gaming experts, tribes stand ready to share this expertise with lawmakers considering the future of sports betting in Minnesota," Platto said.

Neither Stephenson's bill nor Chamberlain's is publicly available yet.

Thirty states and Washington, D.C., have approved some sort of sports betting operation in recent years, including every surrounding state to Minnesota. In Iowa, people can place bets online through their phones or by visiting state casinos.

North Dakota, Wisconsin and South Dakota allow it only in their casinos, according to the American Gaming Association.

"It's time to move Minnesota forward," Chamberlain said. "We are an island in the Midwest."

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