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Minnesota Legislature working through gambling, growlers and recreational pot

Whether it's gambling, booze or pot, proposals to relax the state’s laws on certain vices have renewed steam this legislative session, particularly with a push to legalize betting on sports in the state.

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A screen shows sports wagering odds. File photo
Derosier, Alex

ST. PAUL — Whether it's gambling, booze or pot, proposals to relax the state’s laws on certain vices have renewed steam this legislative session, particularly with a push to legalize betting on sports in the state.

The chances of Minnesota legalizing sports betting appear better than ever this year, with key Democratic-Farmer-Labor and Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate expressing interest in getting a bill sent to the governor this session.

House Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, took the lead on the issue in the House, offering a sign to Republican backers that they now have an ally in the DFL-controlled chamber of the Legislature. Stephenson is also hoping to push for a major liquor law overhaul that would allow smaller brewers to sell directly from their taprooms.

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House Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, at a news conference Nov. 4, 2021, announcing his push for legal sports betting legislation in Minnesota.
Screengrab via Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Services

“Chair Zack Stephenson is going to be kind of 'all sin all the time' in 2022. He's working on sports betting and liquor laws, trying to find the grand compromise that will move Minnesota law forward on both of them,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman told Forum News Service. “And they both have been very tough places to find compromise. So I think there's an appetite.”

Meanwhile, Republican leaders in the Senate don't appear to have changed their mind on legalizing recreational pot, but Gov. Tim Walz is now pushing for the issue along with Democrats in the Legislature.

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Here's where the issues stand as of Wednesday, Feb. 8, the second week of the session.

Sports betting

Stephenson as of Feb. 8 had not introduced a House version of the sports betting bill, but in early 2021, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, introduced a bill of his own that remains in play. His proposal calls for the legalization of sports betting at tribal casinos, electronically and at the Running Aces and Canterbury Park race tracks in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Chamberlain introduced similar legislation in 2019.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain
Sen. Roger Chamberlain (left), of Lino Lakes, with Rep. Linda Runbeck, of Circle Pines, in 2012.
Don Davis / Forum News Service

Many states across the U.S. legalized sports betting in some form after a 2018 Supreme Court decision throwing out a decades-old federal law forbidding the practice. All of Minnesota's neighbors are legal sports-betting states, Stephenson said, and for the past three years lawmakers have tried without success to legalize the practice in Minnesota as well.

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA), which represents tribes involved in the gaming industry, has opposed the legalization of sports betting in the past but hinted that it may be willing to discuss the issue.

"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," association executive director Andy Platto said in a November statement." As gaming experts, tribes stand ready to share this expertise with lawmakers considering the future of sports betting in Minnesota."

While Stephenson said he had hoped to have a bill ready by the beginning of the session, he said the parties are getting closer to an agreement.

“My goal is to have a bill that has broad stakeholder support and I’m not going to put something in until I feel like I’m there,” he told Forum News Service. “I’m going to wait until I have something I feel really good about and that day is getting closer but it’s not today.”

Rep. Pat Garofalo, a Farmington Republican also pushing for legal sports betting said lawmakers have had productive conversations but so far have not arrived at anything concrete. Chamberlain said he was "working with stakeholders and interested parties to get a bill passed this session."

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Meanwhile, South Dakota lawmakers are weighing a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow mobile sports betting statewide. The state’s Senate this week passed the resolution along to the house.

Alcohol

In fall 2021, Stephenson said he wanted to see a significant liquor bill pass in the upcoming session, with particular emphasis on craft breweries. In October he held a marathon meeting of the House Commerce Committee to hear nearly 30 different alcohol-related proposals from both parties in an effort to zero in on priorities.

Those bills include a proposal introduced by Rep. Dan Wolgamott, DFL-St. Cloud, to lift growler sale restrictions in the state, something that has frustrated the state’s biggest breweries for years. Other proposals include allowing gas stations and grocery stores to sell wine and beer, and permitting distilleries of any size to operate a cocktail room.

Stephenson said the House DFL Caucus’ biggest priority, however, is lifting sales restrictions faced by small breweries scattered across Minnesota.

“I would like to see the growler issue resolved, but that is an issue that affects five or six of the largest breweries in the state. We want to help the 150 smallest brewers in the state, we don’t want them left out,” he said. “You have the challenge of building a customer base that’s interested in your product, you’re not in every liquor store around the state so having more flexibility to sell directly to the people out of your taproom is really important.”

The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild and Minnesota Hospitality back lifting the growler sale cap and permanently allowing to-go sales, but legislation faces opposition from liquor store owners and beer distributors.

Stephenson said lawmakers and stakeholders continue to discuss priorities and while conversations have been productive they have not yet arrived at anything concrete.

Marijuana

A bill to legalize recreational marijuana passed in the Minnesota House for the first time ever last year, but continues to face strong opposition in the Republican-controlled senate. Barring Senate Republican leadership reversing its position, it's highly unlikely any bill will see movement in that chamber this session.

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However, the cause of legal recreational pot did gain another boost this year. Gov. Walz in January called for the legalization of adult-use marijuana as part of his public safety and health budget proposal for the 2022 session. His administration called for taxes and regulations on marijuana and expungement of all nonviolent offenses involving the substance — similar to the House bill.

Walz in the past said he would sign legislation legalizing recreational marijuana use but this year marks the first time he supported the issue directly in his budget recommendations. 

House Majority leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, introduced the recreational marijuana legalization bill that passed in the House in 2021. Speaker Hortman said the bill remained in play in the second year of the legislative biennium, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller said he did not support the proposal.

A statewide coalition of groups including the Insurance Federation of Minnesota, the Minnesota Catholic Conference as well as the state trucking and police associations formed a group called Minnesotans Against Marijuana Legalization, days before Walz’s announcement.

Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email aderosier@forumcomm.com. Forum News Service's Dana Ferguson contributed to this report.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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