Historical Horse Racing Battle Muddies Minnesota Sports Betting Debate

Historical Horse Racing Battle Muddies Minnesota Sports Betting Debate
Fact Checked by Jim Tomlin

As if the situation regarding the debate around Minnesota sports betting was not complex enough, a new wrinkle was added this week that may complicate the situation even further.

This week, the Minnesota Racing Commission voted to allow the state’s two racetracks to offer historical horse racing this spring. HHR games are similar to slot machines, except that they use a database of previously run races to determine if the wager is a winner.

Canterbury Park and Running Aces appreciated the move, as have both cited the need for more revenue to stay competitive. But the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, whose member tribes operate casinos across the state, strongly opposed the move.

“This action was an extreme violation of legislative authority,” MIGA Executive Director Andy Platto said in a statement. “The Commission rejected the opinion of the state’s gaming regulators at the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division who have consistently held that these games are gambling devices just like slot machines, and thus are illegal under state law.”

Jeff Maday, a spokesperson for Canterbury Park, told MinnesotaBets.com in a statement that the commission understood the tracks’ needs but also “showed deference to the legislature” by giving lawmakers time to weigh in on the issue.

On Thursday, state Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, filed HF 5274, a measure that would block tracks from hosting HHR machines. The measure also includes language that would exclude the tracks from offering electronic table games. Besides racing, the tracks are allowed to offer table games, like blackjack and poker (but no Minnesota online casinos).

One of the co-authors on Stephenson’s HHR ban bill is House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.

HF 5274 is expected to receive a hearing before the House Commerce, Policy and Finance Committee on Monday afternoon. Racing representatives are scheduled to attend and speak against the bill.

HHR Ban Added To Sports Betting Measure

Stephenson also included the HHR ban in his version of the sports betting bill, HF 2000. That measure is the House version of SF 1949, a proposal sponsored by state Sen. Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights.

Both bills give the state’s tribes exclusive rights to offer sports betting, both in a retail setting at their casinos and online statewide via Minnesota sportsbook apps. In lieu of sports betting licenses, the bills set aside funding for the tracks.

The tracks and the tribes could not reach an agreement on sports betting last year, which kept lawmakers from voting on a measure.

“Our position has not changed,” Maday said. “We have, for more than a year, asked many of the same legislators who are upset with the MRC to gather together the tribes, racetracks, and charitable gaming to work on a proposal that would benefit all parties. We continue to be willing to meet. That, however, is the one thing that has not happened.”

Another Sports Betting Bill Introduced

In other Minnesota sports betting developments, a key Senate leader unveiled a new proposal on Thursday that seems similar in nature to the way New York legalized online wagering three years ago.

Senate Finance Chair John Marty, DFL-Roseville, filed SF 5330, which would allow sports betting operators to seek licenses through a competitive bidding process. However, the interested bidders would have to agree to a taxation rate of at least 40%.

In addition, Marty’s bill includes other changes that have been made to Klein’s SF 1949, including a prohibition on in-game wagering and default limits on how much money bettors can lose and deposit in 24-hour and 30-day spans.

Proponents of the in-game wagering ban say it’s needed because those bets help cause problem gambling and compulsive gambling issues. Sports betting operators have countered that argument by saying such restrictive measures will only help offshore and illegal bookmakers.

Marty’s bill has been assigned to the Senate State and Local Government and Veterans Committee. It has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

The Minnesota Legislature will continue to meet in St. Paul through May 20.

Follow MinnesotaBets.com for updates on whether online operations, and possibly ensuing Minnesota sports betting promo codes, will be activated.

USA Today photo by Matt Krohn



Steve is an accomplished, award-winning reporter with more than 20 years of experience covering gaming, sports, politics and business. He has written for the Associated Press, Reuters, The Louisville Courier Journal, The Center Square and numerous other publications. Based in Louisville, Ky., Steve has covered the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. and other gaming matters.