Minnesota Sports Betting Bill Advances As Budget Items Stall

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A proposal to legalize sports betting survived a test Thursday amid lawmakers’ efforts to pull together the pieces of a package to spend the Minnesota’s enormous budget surplus with just days remaining in the legislative session.

The bill, authored by Republican Sen. Roger Chamberlain, of Lino Lakes, would allow tribal casinos and the state’s two horse racing tracks to offer sports betting on mobile devices and in-person. It differs from its House counterpart, which would only let tribes offer sports wagering.

It passed the Senate Finance Committee on a 5-4 vote.

Chamberlain told reporters afterward he hopes to get the bill passed and into a House-Senate conference committee but acknowledged the timing will be tight before adjournment on Monday. Agreement on a final bill may prove difficult as the 10 of the state’s 11 Native American tribes represented by the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association oppose the Senate version, while Chamberlain maintains that leaving the horse racing tracks out of the action is a “non-starter.”

“We’re very happy to help protect the tribes’ business model, I always have been willing to do that, but we cannot allow exclusivity in this case simply because it won’t be a good product,” he said.

Several other House-Senate conference committees are still working through the details of bills to parcel out the state’s $9.25 billion budget surplus after Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders worked out a deal for spending targets earlier this week. The framework includes $4 billion in tax relief and targets of $1 billion each for education, and health and human services, and $450 million for public safety.

Some conference committees, like public safety, remained far apart Thursday. House Democrats tabled discussion on law enforcement and community-based public safety budget items Wednesday, hoping to reach agreement first on items where both sides were closer to a deal.

But Republican Senate Public Safety Chairman Warren Limmer, of Maple Grove, said he wants to see “all of the elements on the table” before moving forward. He made his convening of the conference committee on Thursday contingent on a full offer from House Democrats. Limmer invoked a Wednesday evening incident, in which a police pursuit that ended outside of the Capitol while the House was in session, resulted in a temporary lockdown of the complex.

“I can’t understand that the House would walk away from discussions when these kinds of criminal behaviors are happening right on the Capitol grounds,” he said. “We must fund and encourage law enforcement and give them the tools and resources they need at this critical time.”

Walz said he expected top legislative leaders to start stepping in and get more involved to try to get negotiations unstuck, but that he was confident they can come together before the end of the session.

Meanwhile, lawmakers were able to find common ground Thursday on changes to the state’s liquor laws and finalize a bill on Thursday. The bill would raise the cap on growler sales from 20,000 to 150,000 barrels, allow small brewers to sell up to 128 ounces of beer a day per customer and allows local distilleries to sell cocktails.

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Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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