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Minnesota lawmakers attempt a Hail Mary on sports betting

Minnesota state senators made a belated push Thursday to legalize sports betting, but the chances of a final deal are growing dim.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 5-4 to advance a bill expanding for-profit gambling in the state, but with just four days remaining in the 2022 session – and with work remaining on key tax measures and spending – key differences remain in the sports betting proposals of the two legislative bodies.

The biggest sticking point? Whether Minnesotans should be allowed to place bets at racetracks.

The House bill passed last week would give Native American tribes in the state exclusive control of bets, which could be placed at tribal and online casinos through tribally-supervised vendors. A proposal by Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, would also allow in-person betting at the state’s two racetracks, which he says is crucial if Minnesota is to launch a successful sports betting market.

“You need a variety and a number of bookmakers to have different odds and different prices available to consumers,” Chamberlain said, adding that the state won’t have “a good product for consumers.” without competition.

“Yes [House legislators] don’t want to move, it won’t move,” he said.

After a series of failed attempts to legalize sports betting in previous sessions, tribes that previously fought such changes have indicated they support the House measure crafted with input from Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids .

In a letter sent Wednesday to members of the Senate Finance Committee, Andy Platto, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, said the 10 tribal nations his group represents would not support a bill that would expand commercial gaming. .

“This opposition seeks to protect the gaming industry which today serves as a critical tax base relied upon by tribal governments and communities,” he wrote.

Minnesota is surrounded by states that have already legalized sports betting, and supporters say many residents are already placing bets illegally.

The House bill would direct taxes on mobile sports betting profits toward regulation, combating problem gambling, funding youth sports and other programs. The Senate proposal would split tax revenue evenly between mental health initiatives, gambling charities and event marketing, though lawmakers said they would also like to include funding for recovery services. gambling addiction.

Although sports betting has drawn opposition from other interest groups with concerns such as addiction, consumer protection and religious objections, Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller said Thursday that “there are still opportunities for stakeholders to come together.”

If tribes, racetracks and gaming charities can reach a compromise on the issue, “I believe we would have the votes to pass it in the Senate,” said Miller, R-Winona.

Minnesota’s divided legislature reached a landmark agreement on another issue Thursday: passing a liquor bill through a committee that would allow the state’s largest breweries to sell growlers to go and to double the amount of produce that craft distilleries could sell to customers to take home.

Breweries lobbied for eight years to lift a production cap that prevented some breweries from selling growlers, said Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater.

“We won’t be the last state in the country not allowed to sell growlers,” she said. “I’m happy about that.”

Negotiations on other important issues such as public safety, tax cuts and education continued behind closed doors on Thursday. Miller said he believed negotiators were close to an agreement on a four-year, $4 billion tax cut.

But talks on public safety legislation — a top priority for both sides — hit a snag when Senate Public Safety and Justice Chairman Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, objected. to the latest offer from his House counterpart, Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul.

At a press conference, Limmer lambasted the offer as evidence that the House did not take public safety seriously. He cited Wednesday night’s capitol lockdown after a police chase that ended on the grounds of the complex.

“We’re getting to the point where violent crime is happening not just on a daily basis, but in an ever-growing wave of downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul and the suburbs,” Limmer said.

Mariani, meanwhile, said the House would “convene a discussion on law enforcement and community investments in public safety,” while working to reach agreement on other items.

The Legislative Assembly has until 11:59 p.m. Sunday to complete its business for the year.

Writers Briana Bierschbach and Emma Nelson contributed to this report.

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