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Sports betting legislation is swiftly moving through the Legislature this year, giving sports fans reason to hope that this is finally the year that Minnesota will join 38 other states in offering legal, well-regulated sports betting. Minnesota's sports betting bill will generate much-needed revenue for charitable groups and well-deserving organizations that should not be overlooked.

Sports betting has been a tremendous success in nearly every state that has created a competitive, regulated market — just look at Illinois, which took in more than $150 million in sports betting taxes in 2023. Or Iowa, which reached all-time sports betting revenue highs last year on the strength of its competitive market with 19 different sports betting licensees. The North Star State will undoubtedly have similar success if it follows the example set by these early adopter states to bring current illegal betting activity out of the shadows and into the light.

While the Minnesota sports betting legislation is largely similar to the competitive market framework that many states have found success with, Minnesotans should be troubled by recent amendments to arbitrarily limit the betting options available to law-abiding Minnesotans.

The most illogical of these proposals is the amendment to prohibit real-time betting, which would limit all wagering to before the event itself begins. Today's modern sports betting industry has moved on from simple pre-event wagers and now a majority of wagering action takes place during the event itself. If Minnesota were to restrict betting to before the event, it would be the first state in the country to do so, and it would hinder the legal market tremendously. This means less tax revenue for the state and more people gravitating to the unregulated offshore sports betting websites that have been operating with impunity for decades. These offshore sports betting operators would no doubt welcome the windfall resulting from being the only outlets able to offer the level of choice and quality of experience that modern technology affords.

Make no mistake, these proposals, well-intentioned or not, will completely undermine the goals of consumer protection and tax revenue generation, resulting in a regulated market that fails to live up to expectations and leaves consumers vulnerable to the whims of offshore gambling operators. Real-time betting is popular because it takes what people love about sports — the interactivity of watching a game and making actionable predictions. Unfortunately, evidence shows that once consumers have given up on the regulated market, they are unlikely to return. And with these customers will go all the potential revenue the state could put toward important causes. Minnesota gets only one chance to make a first impression on local sports bettors with new sports betting regulations.

I speak from over 20 years of experience in this industry spanning North America, Europe and Asia. My company, Group, helps online gamblers find the best regulated operators to meet their needs. We are intimately familiar with how consumers decide on where to play. Consumers in the U.S. have seen states get sports betting right and get it wrong, and now quickly see through half-baked regulations. We are proud members of the Responsible Gambling Affiliates Association, a trade group that promotes safe and responsible online gaming practices. As a company, our goal is to empower consumers with the information they need to make good decisions, which foremost includes directing consumers to regulated, licensed and trustworthy sports betting operators as opposed to the still-thriving offshore market.

When a consumer conducts an internet search for "sports betting" that person is bombarded with results that include offshore, unregulated gambling companies that do not play by states' rules and will happily take any customers' money — credit cards, crypto, etc. — with limited identity and age verification. Because illegal sports betting is so stubbornly prevalent, the state cannot afford to create unnecessary pain points in the regulated market that will push Minnesota consumers into the open arms of these foreign operators.

I applaud the Minnesota Legislature's hard work to make regulated sports betting a reality, but I urge it to rethink the ban on real-time betting. A bill that is so out of touch with consumer expectations could wind up being worse than no bill at all.

Charles Gillespie is co-founder and CEO of Group.