It certainly didn't take long for Minnesota to get left behind on a sure-bet windfall.
Less than a year ago, in May, the U.S. Supreme Court took action that opened the door for states to join Nevada in allowing legal betting on professional and college sports, specifically the outcomes of games and even plays within games.
Seven states and counting quickly got into sports betting in recent months, seizing on its promise of tax riches. At least 30 states are looking to legitimize what's now widespread and illegal black-market wagering. Americans illegally wager about $150 billion a year on sports, the American Gaming Association has estimated.
While so many states are embracing betting, in Minnesota - where residents would wager an estimated $2 billion a year, according to the association - a once-ambitious proposal to get in on the action has been pared way back. Worse, legislation this session in St. Paul appears headed toward a similar disappointing fate as a measure last session. A year ago, lawmakers adjourned without holding any hearings at all on moving Minnesota into sports betting, and a bill that circulated wasn't even filed.
This year's bill to legalize sports betting would do so only in tribal casinos and wouldn't allow betting via virtual methods like smartphones. Even if passed, a measure so restrictive would hamper the state's ability to fully realize revenue potentials. Halfhearted at best, the bill would be an opportunity missed rather than an opening seized.
To the credit of state leaders, they've been meeting for nearly a year with the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, recognizing how state-sanctioned sports betting could impact tribal casinos. Not surprisingly, the association made clear in a letter last month from its chairman that it opposes sports betting in Minnesota.
But the state can move on without the association's blessing. Federal law requires only good-faith negotiation, which appears to have happened, and the authority for tribes to offer the same gambling in their casinos as is offered off-reservation, which can be granted, allowing tribal casinos to also cash in.
There's no doubt taxes on sports betting would be lucrative in Minnesota. Even just a 5 percent tax would raise $100 million annually. Think of all the crumbling bridges that could be fixed, the textbooks purchased, or snowy highways plowed. Lawmakers and others in leadership positions owe it to constituents to embrace this attractive new funding source.
Those same leaders would be responsible, too, if they set aside a cut of the revenue for programs that address gambling addiction and that could help Minnesotans through other resultant social and health woes. Inadequate funds from the state are allocated to such causes now.
With sports betting in the shadows of illegitimacy rather than in the bright light of lawful behavior, thousands of Minnesotans currently participating are vulnerable to scams and unscrupulous practices. Legalization would mean regulations that would benefit and protect consumers, the safeguards applied also to advertising, the same way tobacco and alcohol ads are regulated - and for similar reasons.
"We need to act responsibly but quickly," sports-betting bill sponsor Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, said this legislative session, according to news reports.
Minnesota does - before more states leave us behind.