In the final hours of the 2024 session, a small bipartisan crew of senators tucked puffy packets stuffed with amendments in their desks, ready to filibuster if a bill to legalize sports betting came up for a late-hour vote.

Sen. Erin Maye Quade, of Apple Valley, said she warned her DFL colleague, Sen. Matt Klein of Mendota Heights, that if he brought up a legalization bill, she and others were prepared to drag out the debate for hours — until adjournment if necessary, potentially blocking passage of other bills.

"There was definitely a sense before the session of inevitability of sports betting legalization. I don't believe that's true anymore," Maye Quade said. "We were able to highlight that there were so many different kinds of people opposed to sports betting for so many different reasons."

The resolve of this coalition of progressives and at least one social conservative contradicts the post-session narrative that a sports betting legalization bill had been agreed upon and was ready to pass until the Senate ran up against the required midnight adjournment.

The most prominent sports betting opponent in the DFL had been Sen. John Marty of Roseville. Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, was also a stated no vote. In early March, additional opposition emerged in the Senate Commerce Committee when Marty found a strong ally in Sen. Jordan Rasmusson, R-Fergus Falls.

It was Rasmusson who successfully amended the bill in the Commerce Committee to ban in-game bets, limiting bettors to the outcome of the game. That effort solidified and eventually emboldened the bipartisan coalition that was up against thousands of dollars and big-name lobbyists working to legalize betting.

"We met on a regular basis," Rasmusson said. "We had dozens of amendments ready to go. We were talking to our colleagues. We were whipping votes."

The group's aim was that "if Minnesota is going to look seriously at legalizing mobile sports betting, we should have a robust discussion," Rasmusson said.

What the group didn't want was to see a sports betting legalization bill dumped into a larger bill that would come out of a conference committee to the Senate floor for its first vote of the session in the final days. The senators were mostly on their own. As Marty said, "There aren't many lobbying groups against sports betting."

Even the Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling doesn't oppose sports betting. The nonprofit takes no position on the issue and receives significant funding through gambling revenue.

The opponents did, however, have an influential ally in Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference. "What's characterized this debate over the years is the way in which the story and coverage has been primarily about how the industry players would carve up the spoils," Adkins said.

The most likely legalization scenario in recent years would give exclusive authority to the state's American Indian tribes to partner with a betting platform such as DraftKings or FanDuel.

A less settled matter was what to do for the state's two horse tracks: Canterbury Park in Shakopee and Running Aces in Columbus. Both say they will be hurt by mobile sports betting and want to expand gambling options at their facilities.

The plans, so far, have entailed directing a share of the sports betting tax revenue to the tracks. Another slice would go for tax relief to charitable gambling, pull-tab operations throughout the state and to address problem gambling. What's left would go to the state.

Looking at that split, Marty said, "I see this as a source of a lot of new expenses for the state."

Since the Supreme Court cleared the way with a ruling in 2018, some three dozen states have legalized a form of sports betting. Minnesota has tiptoed into the discussions, but it hasn't been a priority for the top DFL leaders or Gov. Tim Walz, who has said he would likely sign a bill but isn't pushing it.

Klein and other supporters, including Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, say sports betting is already happening in Minnesota, so the state should legalize it with safeguards. Surrounding states allow it, but only Iowa has mobile betting. In the Dakotas and Wisconsin, gamblers must go to a casino to bet. Klein said it's about creating a "legitimate safe market for sports betting."

Miller said Minnesotans want it, and "I believe we had the votes but we ran out of time at the end of the session." Klein agreed, but opponents did not.

"If the Democratic leadership thought they had the votes, they would have scheduled it for a vote. There was a lot of bipartisan opposition to rushing sports betting through," Rasmusson said, adding that he was "surprised at the [post-session] victory lap for a bill that failed to pass either chamber of the Legislature."

Adkins, Maye Quade and Marty all said they believe states that rushed to legalize gambling after the court's ruling are now having regrets as college coaches voice major concerns and professional athletes have faced lifetime bans for betting on games.

:Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent recently told the New York Times, "I don't think the next 20 or 30 years is going to be a pretty story about gambling in the sports world because the money is going to be so enormous, and wherever the money is enormous, the corruption follows," he said.

Which is why Adkins worked to slow it down. He said he urged legislators to listen to their conscience when it comes to sports betting and that "societal harms outweigh any public benefit."

He pushed for a broader discussion about problems associated with gambling, including personal bankruptcies and the disintegration of families. The addiction also has a high rate of suicidal ideation and attempts, according to the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling.

Maye Quade was similarly blunt, saying that mobile sports betting puts an addictive activity on the cellphone and links it to your bank account.

"That is insane to me," she said. "The sports betting industry is a predatory industry, full stop. I don't know what DFL legislator loves predatory industries."

As for what happens next year, it's unclear if supporters will run with a 2024 agreement.

"I think it's far too early to say that," Miller said. For one, the entire Legislature will be different next year. The Senate is currently tied at 33 with the departure of DFL Sen. Kelly Morrison of Deephaven. There will be a special election for that seat, and all 134 House seats are up for election.

"It's a challenging issue, there's no doubt about that," Miller said. "But I remain committed. It's still one of the issues I hear about most."

Klein wasn't overly optimistic. "At the end of the day, I don't know how to get past people in my caucus who are just committed to killing this thing," he said, adding that it would come down to DFL Majority Leader Erin Murphy "exerting her influence."

The coalition of opponents is also prepping for next session. Marty said he will be ready and organized, while Adkins pledged to build up the coalition. "We're going to take that momentum in 2025 and continue to talk to people about the costs," Adkins said.