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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Nolan West (R)

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Legislative update

Friday, April 12, 2024

Hello from the Capitol!

At the outset of the 2024 session, I mentioned how legalized sports betting likely will be a hot-button issue at the Capitol this year.

The big question was whether House Democrats would continue their approach from last year that gave a sports-betting monopoly to the tribal casinos, while also prohibiting people from betting on sports at any of Minnesota’s horse racetracks, including Running Aces. As I have said, this is devoid of reason considering the tracks are the only entities that handle sports bets right now in their horse racing.

Now there is a new bill (H.F. 5274), authored by Democrat Rep. Zack Stephenson, which will crush the Minnesota horse racing industry by banning games people have been playing for years in addition to games that were recently approved for the tracks. The tribal casinos have requested Rep. Stephenson author this bill to destroy the racetracks’ ability to make a profit, even though the tracks pose no threat to the tribal casinos. On the other hand, Minnesota’s horse racing industry employs thousands and generates the state an estimated $500 million economic annual benefit, primarily in the agricultural sector.

Here is how things have unfolded:

First, Gov. Walz’s appointees to the Minnesota Racing Commission on April 1 performed their due diligence by authorizing On-Track Advance Deposit Wagering on Historic Horse Racing (ADW/HHR) by an overwhelming 5-1 vote. This move was seen as a lifeline to our state’s two horse racing tracks, allowing them to tap into desperately needed revenue by allowing bettors to electronically bet on past horse races.

But, just three days after the racetracks received approval from their regulator to conduct ADW/HHR, a revenge bill Rep. Stephenson authored under the direction of tribal casinos was introduced in the House, because the casinos somehow perceived this as a threat to their profits. Not only does the bill prohibit betting on historical horse races, it also bans electronic "stadium-style" card games that allow many people to play at one time through a device instead of at a card table. These games have been at the tracks for years, but now suddenly they should be banned? There is no reason for this, but one: revenge. The horse tracks have been advocating to be a meaningful part of the future of sports betting, and for that “crime” the tribal casinos have decided to order the Democrats to destroy them.

As a WCCO report put it this week, “Getting rid of both games and pushing the race tracks out of a sports gambling proposal could endanger the future of Running Aces and Canterbury Park...”

This House legislation is reckless and irresponsible. It is pure political retaliation at the behest of tribal casino donors. It would decimate Minnesota’s horse racing industry by killing ADW/HHR and eliminating games that Minnesotans have been playing at the state’s racetracks for more than two decades. Meanwhile, an economic study showed the approval of ADW/HHR for the racetracks represented less than 1.5 percent of tribal casinos’ 2022 gaming revenues.

This vengeful style of politics is what you may expect from Vegas mobsters but has no place in Minnesota.

The tribal casinos currently are suing the commission over its recent ruling. If you think these games are against the law, this is the way to do it. The legislature should not be tipping the scales. This issue should be settled in a court of law.



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