A brief letter from a significant player in the world of legal gambling has altered the politics around the issue of sports betting in Minnesota. At least for today.
Last week, Charles Vig, the seat of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, wrote Gov. Tim Walz and the four legislative leaders to say the nation’s gambling tribes were not interested in adding sports betting to their offerings.
But he did not stop there. From the letter, Vig said the tribes will probably oppose passage of laws to add Minnesota to the growing list of states with legalized sports betting. “The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association continues to oppose the expansion of off-reservation gambling, including the legalization of sports betting,” he wrote.
The seven casino-owning tribes in Minnesota combine a group of unusual allies in opposing sports betting bills this year, including groups such as Citizens Against Gambling Expansion, which concerns about the ill effects of gaming, including addiction.
The tribes do not possess a veto over non-tribal gambling, but their voices are influential, especially among DFLers such as Gov. Tim Walz and the new House majority. Under federal law, states need to deal in good faith to allow tribes to offer the very same kinds of gambling that’s legal off-reservation.
Until a U.S. Supreme Court decision last spring cleared the way for states to offer sports gambling similar to what’s lawful in Nevada casino gambling books, that law wasn’t an issue in Minnesota. Now it is. With a 6-3 majority, the court ruled in Murphy v. NCAA that Congress exceeded its authority by preventing states from legalizing and regulating sports betting. The case had been brought by New Jersey, which wanted to provide a boost to its fighting Atlantic City casinos, also had tried a set of legal moves to end the federal ban against sports gambling in all states except Nevada.
From the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. wrote that Congress has the authority to pass legislation to govern sports betting itself. However, if it decides not to, each nation is free to do so, and many have done exactly that.
A draft bill circulated in the Minnesota capitol in the conclusion of the 2018 session but no formal bill was filed and no hearings were held. Supporters of the legislation, headed by Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Blaine, have been coordinating a bill for this session,.
Chamberlain, who is chair of the Senate Taxes Committee, was surprised and a little disappointed in the tribes’ place, which he found out about through Twitter. “We met with them and while they’re not always in alignment they are obviously concerned about losing their economic foundation, the economic engine,” Chamberlain said. “We understand that. We have reassured them that we are not interested in damaging that interest or jeopardizing tribal compacts.”
State Sen. Roger Chamberlain
Courtesy of Senate Media Services
State Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Blaine, stated cellular betting must be part of this state law since that’s where much of the betting action is.
But Chamberlain said he is optimistic it remains subject to negotiations, and he said he believes it might be a triumph for the state, the tribes and to get non-tribal betting. “There is no reason to shut out the remainder of the state and the rest of the potential customers and players and operators from taking part in a totally safe and lawful business,” he explained. “We expect to get to a place where everyone can agree and I think we could.”
Once it appears evident that tribes would have the ability to offer sports gambling in their own casinos if it’s made legal for non-tribal gaming, legal advisors note that sports betting sets up some hard choices for tribes. The first issue is that gambling on sports — about the outcomes of games, on scores and other results — isn’t especially lucrative for casinos. Another is that under federal law, tribes may only offer gambling over the boundaries of bookings. This makes the most-promising aspect of sports gambling — distant betting online or via mobile devices — may be off limits to these, but not to non-tribal sports novels.
Chamberlain said mobile betting must be a part of the state law since that’s where a lot of the betting action is. Part of the rationale for legalizing it state by state would be to capture some of the bets now made illegally.
“In this economy and culture you require mobile access to become rewarding,” Chamberlain said.
Online betting would also make gambling available in rural and remote parts of the state that might not have casinos or commercial sports books near. One possible solution for those tribes would be to announce that the gaming takes place where a participant’s phone is, but where the computer server that processes the bet is situated. That is far from resolved law, however.
“We can find our way round those problems and get it done,” Chamberlain said.
Vig is chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community of Minnesota, which owns the Mystic Lake and Little Six casinos, didn’t shut the door on eventual tribal interest in sports betting. He did, however, ask the state to move slowly.
“While there’s a desire by some to consider this issue during the present session, it seems that the public interest will be best served first by careful analysis of sports betting’s consequences in this state, examination of other states’ experiences where sports betting has been legalized, and comprehensive consultation with the large number of stakeholders interested in it,” Vig wrote.
A spokesman for the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association said pioneers weren’t readily available for interviews and that Vig’s letter would be their only statement on the problem.
State Rep. Laurie Halverson
State Rep. Laurie Halverson
The chair of the home committee that would consider any sports betting bills said the tribal association’s letter does not change her position on the problem. Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan, stated that there are still no sponsors within her caucus pushing a statement. Ever before the tribes left their position known, Halverson stated she planned to be cautious and deliberate on the subject.
“I have yet to see language or have anything introduced,” she said.
But she expects laws will surface, and she wants to possess at least an info hearing so lawmakers can comprehend the impacts and listen from both backers and opponents. “I believe we’re all in learning mode,” she explained. “When something is this new, that’s the legislative model generally. Things take time and we have to be deliberative about these major changes to Minnesota law.”
At a press conference Wednesday, Walz said his basic position on the problem is to legalize and regulate. But he explained that should come only after a process of hearings and discussion. “I expect adults to make adult decisions,” he explained of gambling. “I also realize that addiction comes in many forms, if that be alcohol, tobacco or cannabis or sports gambling and these can have social consequences which are fairly catastrophic.
“When the Legislature chooses to take up that, we are certainly interested in working with them to make it right,” Walz said.
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