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Sports betting odds better at State Capitol

Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Zack Stephenson says he'll carry a sports betting bill in the House during 2022 session, adding to efforts underway in the Senate.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The push to legalize sports betting gained momentum in Minnesota Thursday, when the head of the House Commerce Committee announced he plans to carry the bill in the 2022 Session. 

Rep. Zack Stephenson, a Coon Rapids Democrat, noted that 32 states have now legalized sports wagering, including those that surround Minnesota.

"The fact we don’t have legal sports betting in Minnesota doesn’t mean we don’t have sports betting in Minnesota," Rep. Stephenson told reporters.

"It just means people who want to engage in sports betting do so on the black and grey markets. Relying on shady websites or digital work-around to do what our neighbors in Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota can all do safely and legally isn’t right. Isn’t good public policy."

Stephenson said he doesn't have the specifics nailed down yet, noting that every state has implemented its own system. It's not clear yet if he'll be able to win support for sports betting on mobile apps, or whether it will be limited to brick-and-mortar establishments and/or tribal casinos.

He said it will be important to engage with Minnesota tribes and the state's professional sports franchises as part of the process of crafting the plan. Currently in Minnesota tribal communities have compacts with the state that grant the exclusive rights to most forms of legal gambling.

"Minnesota shouldn't be an island, one of an ever-shrinking number of states that doesn't allow sports betting," Stephenson said.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, a Lino Lakes Republican, has been the chief author of sports betting bills in the Senate the past two sessions and he plans to carry the bill again. Two senators who've signed onto Chamberlain's bill, Republican Karin Housley and Democrat Karla Bigham, both welcomed the news that House Democrats are going to take a run at it too.

"It’s not only the House but it’s the chair of the Commerce Committee, which hold jurisdiction over gaming, and I think that’s significant," Sen. Bigham told KARE.

Sen. Housley said fantasy football has really increased interest in the game and sports wagering has the potential to create the same type of boost, in addition to providing tax revenue to the state.

"It would be keeping those sports betters here in Minnesota and there would be some oversight of it because it would be legal."

Andy Platto of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association issued this response on behalf of MIGA's members, which include 10 of 11 tribal nations in the state.

"The tribal governments making up MIGA have been examining the various ways sports betting has been implemented across the country and its impacts on tribal communities. As gaming experts, tribes stand ready to share this expertise with lawmakers considering the future of sports betting in Minnesota."

Bigham and Housley have both traveled to surrounding states to observe legal sports betting.

"It’s so much fun and to what it’s done for the bars and restaurants and see the excitement and the business on game days, whether it's PGA Golf of the NFL, it really brigs a lot of excitement," Housley remarked.

Bigham noted that legalizing sports betting here would bring a layer of consumer protection as well, because those who play apps that link them to overseas games don't have any records if their money is taken or their winning bets aren't paid.

She also cited the potential interest in Minnesota because it hosts so many large sporting events.

"Minnesota is one of the top destinations for tournaments and we’re one of the only states that has a professional team in every sport, men and women."

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