A brief letter by a significant player in the world of legal gaming has changed the politics around the problem of sports gambling in Minnesota. At least for now.
Last week, Charles Vig, the chair of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, wrote Gov. Tim Walz and the four legislative leaders to say the nation’s gambling tribes weren’t interested in adding sports gambling to their offerings.
But he didn’t stop there. In the letter, Vig said the tribes will oppose passing of legislation to include Minnesota to the growing list of states with legalized sports gambling. “The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association continues to oppose the expansion of off-reservation gaming, including the legalization of sports betting,” he wrote.
The seven casino-owning tribes in Minnesota combine a group of unusual allies in sports gambling betting bills this year, including groups like Citizens Against Gambling Expansion, which worries about the ill effects of gambling, including dependency.
The tribes do not have a veto over non-tribal gaming, but their voices are powerful, especially among DFLers such as Gov. Tim Walz and the new House majority. Under federal law, states must deal in good faith to allow tribes to offer you the same types of gambling that is legal off-reservation.
Until a U.S. Supreme Court decision last spring cleared the way for states to provide sports betting similar to what’s lawful in Nevada casino sports books, that law was not an issue in Minnesota. Now it is. With a 6-3 majority, the court ruled in Murphy v. NCAA that Congress exceeded its power by preventing states from legalizing and regulating sports betting. The case was brought by New Jersey, which wanted to provide an increase to its fighting Atlantic City casinos, and had attempted a series of legal moves to end the federal ban against sports betting in most states except Nevada.
From the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. wrote that Congress has the ability to pass laws to regulate sports betting itself. However, when it decides not to, each nation is free to do so, and several have already done just that.
A draft bill circulated in the Minnesota capitol at the end of this 2018 session but no formal bill was ever filed and no hearings were held. Supporters of the legislation, led by Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Blaine, have been preparing a bill for this session,.
Chamberlain, who’s chair of the Senate Taxes Committee, was amazed and a little disappointed at the tribes’ position, which he discovered about via Twitter. “We met with them and while they’re not necessarily in alignment they are obviously worried about losing their economic foundation, the economic engine,” Chamberlain said. “We understand that. We’ve reassured them that we’re not interested in harming that fascination or jeopardizing tribal compacts.”
State Sen. Roger Chamberlain
Courtesy of Senate Media Services
State Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Blaine, said cellular gambling must be part of the state law because that’s where much of the betting action is.
But Chamberlain said he’s optimistic it remains subject to negotiations, and he said he thinks it might be a win for the nation, the tribes and to get non-tribal gambling. “There is no reason to shut the remainder of the country and the rest of the potential consumers and operators and players from getting involved in a totally safe and lawful firm,” he said. “We hope to get into a place where everybody can agree and I think we could.”
Once it seems evident that tribes would have the ability to offer sports betting in their own casinos if it’s made valid for non-tribal gaming, legal advisors note that sports betting sets up some tough choices such as tribes. The primary issue is that betting on sports — on the results of matches, on scores and other outcomes — isn’t especially lucrative for casinos. The other is that under national law, tribes may only offer gambling within the boundaries of bookings. This makes the most-promising aspect of sports betting — remote betting online or via mobile devices — might be off limits to them, but to not non-tribal sports novels.
Chamberlain said cellular gambling must be part of the state law since that is where much of the betting action is. Part of the rationale for legalizing it state by state is to catch some of the bets made lawfully.
“In this economy and culture you require mobile access to become profitable,” Chamberlain said.
Online betting would also make gaming available in rural and remote parts of the country that might not have casinos or even industrial sports books nearby. One possible solution for the tribes is to declare that the gaming takes place not where a participant’s telephone is, but in which the computer server which processes the wager is located. That is far from solved law, nevertheless.
“We can find our way round these 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 Seven casinos, didn’t shut the door on ultimate tribal interest in sport gambling. He did, however, ask the state to proceed gradually.
“While there is a desire by some to look at this matter during the current session, it appears that the public interest would be served first by careful study of sports gambling’s consequences within this state, examination of other states’ experiences where sports betting gambling was legalized, and thorough consultation with the high 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 sole statement on the problem.
State Rep. Laurie Halverson
State Rep. Laurie Halverson
The chair of the House committee that would consider any sports gambling bills said the tribal institution’s letter doesn’t change her position on the problem. Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan, stated there are still no sponsors in her caucus pushing a bill. Before the tribes left their position known, Halverson said she intended to be cautious and deliberate on the topic.
“I’ve yet to watch language or have anything introduced,” she explained.
But she expects legislation will surface, and that she wants to have at least an info hearing so lawmakers will comprehend the consequences and hear from both backers and competitions. “I think we are all in learning style,” she said. “If something is that new, that is the legislative model typically. Things take time and we need to be deliberative about such major modifications to Minnesota law.”
At a press conference Wednesday,” Walz stated his basic position on the problem will be to legalize and regulate. But he explained that should come only after a process of hearings and debate. “I expect adults to make adult decisions,” he said of gambling. “I also realize that addiction comes in many forms, if that be alcohol, tobacco or cannabis or sports betting and these can have social consequences which are pretty catastrophic.
“When the Legislature chooses to take up that, we’re certainly interested in working together to make it right,” Walz said.

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