Minnesota Lawmakers Still Wrestling With Wagering Bill

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Minnesota’s sports betting bill continued moving through the state legislature Thursday when the House Committee on Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee advanced it.

The measure was referred for consideration next by the State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee. The bill so far has been heard in three committees and still has multiple stops before getting to the House floor. The legislature is set to adjourn May 22.

As the bill currently stands, Minnesota’s 11 tribes would get a monopoly on sports betting, as professional sports teams and horse-racing facilities are excluded.

Rep. Brad Tabke said Thursday that he is working on a future amendment to the bill, however, and Rep. Walter Hudson said he would like to “see tracks included in this.” Tracy Wilson, the chief financial officer of Running Aces Racetrack, testified that she’d like to see the tracks “treated equally” with tribal casinos.

Hudson also asked that the committee discuss some of the ins and out of tribal sovereignty.

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn had earlier shared her thoughts on sovereignty with the committee, saying, “They are sovereign tribal nations with those rights, and our own constitution, the U.S. Constitution, says so. The supreme law of the land is those treaties, and those sovereign tribal nations are at a different standing. They should not be at the same level as any other commercial business.”

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Same issues, different session

Last year, Minnesota lawmakers were not able to bridge the gap between tribes and the racetracks. Rep. Zack Stephenson’s tribal-only wagering bill in 2022 was passed by the House and had the support of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA). After the Senate later added horse tracks to the bill, MIGA withdrew its support and the bill died.

This year’s version leaves out horse tracks while including this language:

The incidental routing of a mobile sports wager shall not determine the location or locations in which the wager is initiated, received, or otherwise made.

The language seems to imply that wherever a bet is placed in Minnesota, if it flows through a server in Indian Country, it would be considered to have been made on tribal lands. The Seminole Tribe in Florida tried a similar approach, and the legality of its compact with the state using that interpretation is now in the hands of a federal court after being struck down initially.

“The phenomena that is different now is mobile, and an activity that is being organized, regulated, and managed by a sovereign nation, but occurs off reservation lands,” Stephenson said. “There are court cases around the country. Other states have tried to create statewide mobile systems via compact and run into difficulty. So there is a reason we try to do this legislatively.”

As Stephenson continues to shepherd his bill through the legislature, though, it appears that the issues that previously complicated his effort have not been resolved.

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