The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a 1992 law that effectively banned sports wagering in every state but Nevada, clearing the way for legal sports betting to come to Minnesota.
"This is like Sunday liquor sales on cocaine," said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, drawing a parallel with the long legislative effort to scrap the state's Sunday liquor sales ban, finally achieved in 2017. "That's how excited people are going to be."
Garofalo had already been working on legislation to legalize sports betting in Minnesota. The high court ruling sets up the prospect of legal sports gambling in states across the country, and a marked change in the sports entertainment experience.
But Minnesotans may have to wait: Garofalo said there's not enough time in Minnesota's current legislative session — which ends in less than a week — to get a law passed.
"I look forward to Minnesota joining other states that will provide a safe, fair and regulated sports gambling experience," Garofalo said. "It's highly unlikely we'll be able to pass legislation in five days, but what we can do is continue the conversation."
Any legislation to allow sports gambling in Minnesota will face tough resistance from a broad coalition of opponents including Christian conservatives, but also liberals concerned about consumers being exploited by gambling companies.
"We will mount a vigorous challenge to any bill introduced," said Jake Grassel, the executive director of Citizens Against Gambling Expansion. Just weeks ago, a coalition that included Grassel's group and the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, Catholic Conference and Minnesota Family Council engineered a surprising defeat of a fantasy sports bill on the House floor.
Grassel acknowledged the black market for sports gambling, but said legalizing it would bring it into the mainstream, especially among young people.
"You're going to normalize gambling for kids because they'll be inundated with advertising during sports games," he said.
Garofalo said he expects Minnesotans alone to make at least $2 billion in bets in the first year bookmakers can take wagers, if his proposed regulatory regime is enacted. He said every day Minnesota does not act, more potential business moves overseas.
The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans illegally wager about $150 billion on sports each year.
"We want to be deliberative, but we want to move fast," Garofalo said. "Today, what you'll see is the unregulated sports gambling environment is going to start marketing to consumers. And once they start signing up with these products, it's difficult for any Minnesota government entity to enforce regulations in a Caribbean sports book."
Gov. Mark Dayton said Monday he did not yet know details of the Supreme Court ruling, and said in Minnesota's case that the issue would likely be resolved after he leaves office. Still, he said state policymakers should consider it.
"I'm for Minnesota getting a share of the profits from what's already going on," Dayton said.
Garofalo said he wants American Indian gaming interests on board with any proposal. A statement from John McCarthy, head of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, indicated they are in no hurry: "We expect that serious consideration of the sports betting issue will be deferred until the 2019 session. Until then, MIGA tribes will take advantage of the interim to study the matter, conduct internal discussions, and work constructively with key legislative leadership to ensure that the tribal perspective is fully considered."
New Jersey, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, is already moving quickly. The Garden State sued to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that Congress used to ban legal sports betting in every state except Nevada, along with sports lotteries in Delaware, Montana and Oregon.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito argued the law is not consistent with the U.S. Constitution: "The legislative powers granted to Congress are sizable, but they are not unlimited."
He continued: "Conspicuously absent from the list of powers given to Congress is the power to issue direct orders to the governments of the States."
The decision will likely alter the sports viewing experience for many Americans, who will be able to bet freely on the outcomes of games and even the outcomes of individual plays within a game, much as they do in the United Kingdom.
The sports leagues and teams are deliberating how to move forward in what could be a lucrative new revenue stream.
"Yeah, I love the idea," said Cheryl Reeve, coach of the Lynx. "I think maybe the casual fan might grow a little more interested and maybe knowledge would increase as a result of that. Because you're not going to put your money out there unless you know exactly what you're talking about. And so I think that creates greater engagement."
(The Lynx are owned by Glen Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune.)
The National Hockey League was more circumspect in a statement: "The Supreme Court's decision today paves the way to an entirely different landscape — one in which we have not previously operated," the NHL statement reads. "We will review our current practices and policies and decide whether adjustments are needed, and if so, what those adjustments will look like. While changes may be considered in the future, today's decision does not directly impact the operation of the NHL or any of our clubs in the short term."
Star Tribune staff writer Kent Youngblood and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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