By Caroline Cummings

NORTHWOOD, Iowa (WCCO) — If you want to legally put money on your favorite Minnesota sports teams, your best bet is to drive down I-35 to Iowa.

But some state lawmakers hope next session they will turn hopes of legal sports gambling in Minnesota into reality, too.

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“Minnesota shouldn’t be an island, one of an ever-shrinking number of states that doesn’t allow sports betting. It should be legal,” said Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids.

Stephenson, chair of the House Commerce Committee, held a news conference Wednesday pledging to put forward a yet-to-be-written bill in the House next year for the legislature to consider. So far 29 states and the District of Columbia have legal and functional sports gambling and three more states have approved it, though the program is not yet operational.

What types of bets are permissible varies. All neighboring states to Minnesota—Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin—have legalized it in some form.

“You work hard for your money, and if you want to place a little money in support of your favorite team, you shouldn’t have to drive to Iowa or use an international gambling app to do it,” said Sen Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, who said he will again introduce legislation to bring regulated sports betting to Minnesota.

It’s unclear what those proposals will look like.

But for anything to happen, supporters will need buy-in not only from fellow lawmakers, but also the state’s casinos, operated by tribal governments. They’ve been opposed in the past but in a statement to WCCO, the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association signaled that casinos might be more open to the idea.

“The tribal governments making up MIGA have been examining the various ways sports betting has been implemented across the country and its impacts on tribal communities,” said Andy Platto, the group’s executive director, in a statement. “As gaming experts, tribes stand ready to share this expertise with lawmakers considering the future of sports betting in Minnesota.”

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In North Dakota, you can bet on sports in tribal casinos; Wisconsin, which recently passed the law and doesn’t yet have a gambling operation up and running, will have a similar model, according to policies tracked by the American Gaming Association.

It’s available at tribal and commercial casinos in South Dakota, while Iowa allows it at casinos and online through mobiles apps, which require location services to ensure a wager is made inside its borders.

Rick Raver, a resident of New Hope, said he drives down just south of the Minnesota border to Diamond Jo’s Casino in Iowa once a week to place bets on his favorite teams.

“I think if you go into the sportsbook here right now and ask how many people have come across the border there would be a sizable percentage,” Raver said.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission reported sports betting brought in $2.8 million in tax revenue in 2020, a year that brought challenges to the gaming industry due to shutdowns and restrictions. Regulators there, though, called it a “bright spot” during that time.

Stephenson said he doesn’t see legalizing it in Minnesota as a way to generate significant revenue for the state, rather “to get people into the legitimate market and out of the black market.”

Previous efforts to pass sports betting in the legislature that have failed. Lawmakers return for the regular session at the end of January.

A United States Supreme Court ruling in 2018 struck down a federal ban on sports wagering in most states, paving the way for states to pass their own laws.

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Caroline Cummings