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Minnesota at risk of missing sports betting again

Sports betting could bring in more than $40 million a year in new tax revenue, so it’s particularly perplexing that lawmakers are not taking a closer look at legalization.

sports gambling
REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
By a wide margin, more people bet legally on Super Bowl LV than on any other single event in U.S. history. Minnesota has it all — the commercials for legal sports betting, endless discussions of what to bet on and plenty of dedicated Vikings fans — except the ability to actually place a legal sports bet. If you live in Minnesota, the best you can do is wait and wonder when you’ll get the same opportunity to join in on the entertainment bonanza.

Minnesota’s failure to legalize sports betting certainly has not slowed down the activity — not even close. Minnesotans bet an estimated $2.5 billion every year through local bookies and offshore websites, and legal sports betting is as close as the Iowa border. Why would lawmakers continue to let this occur when they have the opportunity to keep this economic activity in-state (not to mention protect local consumers from problem gambling)?

Could bring in $40 million-plus per year

Sports betting could bring in more than $40 million a year in new tax revenue, so it’s particularly perplexing that lawmakers are not taking a closer look at legalization while they scramble to find revenue to fill severe budget shortfalls in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With sports betting now legal in 22 states and Washington, D.C., Minnesota has already fallen far behind. Those states that haven’t yet joined the party have been aggressively pursuing a path to legalizing, regulating and taxing sports betting, but Minnesota seems to have stumbled out of the gates yet again in the 2021 legislative session.

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Rep. Pat Garofalo and Sen. Karla Bigham have said and done all the right things to try to get this issue moving. The bills they have introduced have struck a very reasonable compromise to begin a slow rollout of sports betting, even going so far as to initially limit it to casino sportsbooks, despite the evidence that mobile sports betting is the most effective method for raising tax receipts.

Popular in every state that put it on the ballot

The reason for this limited rollout is purely in deference to the state’s powerful tribal gaming enterprises, who have made clear that they oppose any expansion of gaming beyond tribal lands. As responsible gaming operators for many decades, the tribes have a well-earned seat at the table for the sports betting conversation. But at some point, Minnesota lawmakers need to listen to the people — sports betting was an overwhelmingly popular measure in every state that put it on the ballot in 2020.

Charles Gillespie
Charles Gillespie
They also need to look at the economic reality — the pandemic response will require new sources of funding, and they can’t afford to leave anything on the table. Although $40 million might not save the day singlehandedly, it would be foolish to watch this money all but disappear into the pockets of offshore bookies and the Iowa state budget.

At this rate, Minnesotans have to wonder how many more Super Bowls will come and go while the state fails to take advantage of this opportunity. It’s no secret that Minnesota has some of the best and most passionate sports fans in the country. Not only do the Twin Cities boast popular franchises in the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS, but it has recently played host to the biggest sporting events in the world, including a Super Bowl and a Final Four. In a state that has such strong emotional and financial ties to the world of sports, the Minnesota Legislature’s reluctance to catch the giant wave of responsible sports betting regulation is bewildering.

Minnesota can no longer be among the first to legalize sports betting, but it doesn’t have to be last. I encourage every Minnesotan to speak out for the common-sense solution here: legal and safe access to locally regulated sports betting.

Charles Gillespie is Chief Executive of Gambling.com Group, an American entrepreneur and globally recognized leader in online gaming. 

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