Odds improved ever so slightly Wednesday on Minnesota's prospects for joining neighboring states in legalizing sports gambling.
Sen. Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights, offered an amendment to his legalization bill that would aid the state's two horse-racing tracks, which were left out of the initial bill. Klein called the amendment a "best faith effort to accommodate horse tracks."
Under his plan, sports gambling would be taxed at 10% with 30% of that going to an economic development fund for the tracks capped at $20 million. After that initial infusion, the two tracks would split $3 million annually.
Klein was resolutely upbeat despite the Legislature's impending adjournment May 22. "If people are motivated to get something done, they will," he said.
As he has before, the senator said Minnesotans want sports gambling and the Legislature's job is to provide guardrails to make it safer. Klein's amendment would allow only the state's 11 tribes to obtain sports betting licenses. The tribes already have exclusive rights to casino gambling.
Klein and Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, introduced a bill in late February. Back then, the two lawmakers were optimistic, but Republicans didn't like the bill without money for tracks and the proposal languished. They're still not warm to it.
"There's not going to be an agreement on this unless the tracks, the teams and the tribes are at the table and negotiate a compromise," said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington.
At the committee hearing, representatives from the two racetracks spoke against the bill, as did Jake Grassel, executive director of Citizens Against Gambling Expansion. Minnesota Indian Gaming Association executive director Andy Platto said the nine tribes in the association would continue to support the amended bill.
Track representatives testified that they provide jobs and already offer sports gambling on horses so they deserve a fair piece of the expansion.
"We are asking today for fairness," said Tracie Wilson, CFO of Running Aces in Columbus.
Randy Sampson, CEO of Canterbury Park in Shakopee, said Klein's amendment is a start but it isn't enough for the tracks. "We're looking forward to continuing to work with the author," Sampson said.
As for whether an agreement is possible in the remaining days before the session adjourns, Sampson said in an interview, "It's too early to tell."
Although neither she nor Sampson provided a number, Wilson said allowing craps and roulette tables at the tracks would be helpful. Sampson said Shakopee's success hinges on complimentary gaming options for fans.
Grassel was the only speaker to outright oppose legalized sports betting, saying it is highly addictive for problem gamblers. He also noted it would be the largest expansion of gambling in the state in 40 years and a "bad bet for Minnesotans."
He urged the committee to consider a tax force to study the issue rather than legalization.
Garofalo, a longtime supporter who calls himself the godfather of sports gambling, said compromise will be easy if the parties are willing. "We're talking about converting a black market to a regulated market. We're talking about who's going to make money off a regulated sports gambling. It's shouldn't be that hard if we listen to each other," he said.
The Senate committee ran out of time to debate and take a vote on the bill with Chair Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, saying she planned to take action on it next week. The bill has multiple stops before it would go to the Senate floor for a vote.