How excited is state Rep. Pat Garofalo to legalize sports betting in Minnesota?
“This is like Sunday liquor sales on cocaine,” the Farmington Republican said on the steps of the Minnesota Capitol Monday. He then added: “Maybe I shouldn’t say that.”
Maybe. But the fact remains that legions of Minnesotans — including lawmakers like Garofalo — are stoked at the prospect of legal sports gambling in Minnesota.
The U.S. Supreme Court gave them a jolt of enthusiasm Monday when it struck down a federal law banning the practice, opening the door for states to legalize it. Garofalo said he’s hoping maybe before the NFL season starts.
But hang on, high rollers. This won’t happen overnight, if at all.
Let’s break it down.
Sports betting is still illegal in Minnesota, and Monday’s high court decision doesn’t change that. And yes, it’s illegal at American Indian tribal casinos as well, because they operate under state-licensing agreements that limit what they can do.
Also: Minnesota doesn’t have to make it legal. The Supreme Court just said we can if we want to.
RELATED: U.S. Supreme Court makes sports betting a possibility nationwide
It’s unclear whether that will happen. Many state lawmakers oppose gambling on principle, as well as any expansion of gambling.
No less than Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, is among them. However, on Monday he said he wants to hear where his GOP Senate colleagues, who control a majority in the Senate, stand, suggesting he might not obstruct the matter if his caucus feels strongly.
Furthermore, for years, frank reckonings with the morality, or lack thereof, of legal gambling in Minnesota have been elusive. Politicians could always shrug and say it doesn’t matter because federal law won’t allow it. They don’t have that cover any more, and even the Supreme Court itself noted “sports gambling is immensely popular.”
Still, a number of groups of both Republicans and Democrats remain leery of gambling. Earlier this session, in a rare occasion of failing to count votes, a Republican-led bill to provide a legal framework for fantasy sports betting in advance of the Supreme Court ruling went down in flames after a number of social conservatives joined forces with liberal skeptics.
The current legislative session is days from adjourning, and Garofalo — one of the leading proponents of legalizing it — said Monday he has no intention of trying to push anything through at the last minute.
He said the state isn’t ready for it right away because there’s no “regulatory infrastructure” in place for the state to do what he says is needed: Legalize sports gambling to make it safe.
Garofalo also said he would only push for a plan if “all stakeholders are on board.”
That makes the NFL season opener a long shot. Among the stakeholders are charities that are allowed to gamble currently, as well as the tribes.
The Native American tribes have a major influence on Minnesota politics, especially when it comes to gambling — and the tribes have long opposed expansions on gambling, a position that adds value to their sovereign right to run casinos.
In a statement, the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association said “tribes will take advantage of the interim to study the matter.”
The tax revenues for legalized sports gambling could be big. Garofalo said estimates are that Minnesotans would wager $2 billion a year if it were legal.
In his vision, that money would be taxed, but only modestly because “You don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”
He came up with a draft in February that has been circulating around the Capitol for some time. He tweeted it Monday from @PatGarofalo.
As for the Sunday liquor sales reference, Garofalo was referring to the longstanding and popular proposal that nonetheless took years to pass.
Members of public have been asking to see a copy of the MN Sports Gambling Bill. Those conversations regarding the bill are ongoing. Attached is a draft version of the bill that has been public reported by another news outlet back in April. https://t.co/izhJVt0iym
— Rep. Pat Garofalo (@PatGarofalo) May 14, 2018