Minnesota state senators made a late-stage push Thursday to legalize sports betting, but the odds of a final deal are growing increasingly slim.
The Senate Finance Committee voted 5-4 to advance a bill expanding for-profit gambling in the state, but with just four days left in the 2022 session — and with work remaining on major tax and spending measures — key differences remain in sports betting proposals from 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 the state's Native American tribes sole control over wagers, which could be placed at tribal casinos, and online through vendors the tribes oversee. A proposal from Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, would also allow in-person bets at the state's two horse racing tracks , which he says is crucial if Minnesota is to launch a successful sports betting market.
"You need a variety and a number of bookmakers so you have different odds and different prices available to consumers," Chamberlain said, adding that the state will not have "a good product for consumers" without competition.
"If [House legislators] are not willing to move on it, it won't move," he said.
After a string of failed attempts to legalize sports betting in previous sessions, the tribes that previously fought such changes indicated they support the House measure crafted with their input by Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids.
In a letter sent to Senate Finance Committee members Wednesday, Andy Platto, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, said the 10 tribal nations his group represents would not support a bill that expands commercial gambling.
"This opposition seeks to protect the gaming industry that today serves as the essential tax base tribal governments and communities rely on," he wrote.
Minnesota is surrounded by states that have already legalized sports betting, and proponents say many residents already place wagers illegally.
The House bill would direct taxes from mobile sports betting profits to regulation, addressing problem gambling, funding youth sports and other programming. The Senate proposal would split tax revenue evenly among mental health initiatives, charitable gambling organizations and events marketing, though lawmakers said they would also like to include funding for gambling addiction recovery services.
Although sports betting has drawn opposition from other interest groups with such concerns as addiction, consumer protection and religious objections, Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller said Thursday that "there's still opportunities for the stakeholders to come together."
If the tribes, racetracks and charitable gambling organizations can reach a compromise on the issue, "I believe that we would have the votes to pass it on the Senate floor," said Miller, R-Winona.
Minnesota's divided Legislature did reach a breakthrough agreement on another issue Thursday: getting a liquor bill through committee that would allow the state's largest breweries to sell growlers to-go and double the amount of product craft distilleries could sell to customers to take home.
Breweries have pushed for eight years to lift a production cap that barred some breweries from selling growlers, said Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater.
"We won't be the last state in the country that's not allowed to sell growlers," she said. "I'm happy about that."
Negotiations on other top issues such as public safety, tax cuts and education continued behind closed doors Thursday. Miller said he thought negotiators were close to a deal on a four-year, $4 billion tax cut.
But talks over public safety legislation — a top priority for both parties — hit a snag when Senate public safety and judiciary chair Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, objected to the latest offer from his House counterpart, Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul.
In a news conference, Limmer blasted the offer as evidence the House was not taking public safety seriously. He cited Wednesday evening's Capitol lockdown after a police pursuit that ended on the complex's grounds.
"We're getting to the point where violent crime is happening not only on a daily basis, it's in an ever expanding ripple from the inner city of Minneapolis and St. Paul and into the suburbs," Limmer said.
Mariani, meanwhile, said the House would "table discussion of law enforcement and community-based public safety investments," while working to reach agreement on other items.
The Legislature has until 11:59 p.m. Sunday to finish its work for the year.
Staff writers Briana Bierschbach and Emma Nelson contributed to this report.