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Brandon Veale column: Hedging my bets on sports gambling in Minnesota

After two bills hit dead ends in the state legislature, I open my notebook and present both arguments for you to consider.

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Brandon Veale
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Whether they're star athletes or academic aces, everyone's memories of high school have their highs and lows. I managed to hit a little of both in April of my junior year of high school when yours truly was the big winner of my school's $10 NCAA men's basketball tournament pool.

Duke landed me at least one or two hundred bucks, which was some significant walking-around money. I took my wallet home to celebrate my achievements ... and received a moderate scolding from Dad for gambling in school.

That was maybe 20 years ago. Since then, sports gambling in the United States has expanded exponentially. Once discussed only on agate pages, by bookmakers and in coded messages ("That's over-whelming!") from Al Michaels on Monday Night Football, the terminology has gone beyond Las Vegas books to dozens of states where it's legal to bet on a game. But not Minnesota, where this year's attempt to legalize the practice hit a dead end in the state legislature.

I've spent the entire weekend trying to take a position, good or bad, on these events, and couldn't get to one side or the other. So instead, I'm going to "open my notebook" and argue both sides simultaneously. I believe some might call it hedging my bets.

As I said, I was raised to believe gambling was immoral, and later in life, a social ill that can damage families and people who can least afford to lose. The fact is legalizing sports gambling will not make problem gambling go away, and is likely to make it worse, and the knock-on effects of that social damage have to be absorbed in communities throughout the state.

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On the other hand, I participate in multiple fantasy sports leagues for cash prizes. For the record, "Green Eggs and CJ Ham" had a rough season. The vast majority of people who bet on the Minnesota Vikings, legal or otherwise, are more hurt by the outcome itself than the wagers they may have put on it. Sports gambling is a ubiquitous and, for the most part, harmless part of sports in several other countries across the planet, notably the United Kingdom. Scott Van Pelt's "Bad Beats" Sportscenter segment is appointment viewing for me on Monday nights and not just because Central Michigan (+2.5) made a legendary appearance based on its rally from 49-14 down in the 2014 Bahamas Bowl only to lose 49-48 on the last play because they went for the win.

I recognize that heavy-handed regulation of the pastimes of consenting adults is, in most cases, a habit best left in previous decades, but I also wonder if cigarettes had never been legal in Minnesota, if we would start now just because a bunch of middle-aged men and sports-talk radio stations complained.

I could preach at you some more, but this officially ceased to be a moral or social question in Minnesota during the just-concluded session of the state legislature.

The reason sports gambling isn't legal in Minnesota today is now a question of politics, and now this column switches from "The Church Lady" to "Schoolhouse Rock."

The DFL-controlled state House and the Republican-controlled state Senate both advanced sports gambling legalization bills, but they're different, and the only way they can become law is if one version is passed. The House version keeps legal sports gambling under the aegis of Native American tribes that are already running the state's casinos. The Senate version allows tribes and the state's two horse racing tracks (Canterbury Park and Running Aces) in on the action.

Involving the horse tracks in sports betting was a hard no for the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, which represents the tribal interests that run Native gaming in the state. The support of MIGA was a stated requirement of Gov. Tim Walz for his signature on the bill.

The angry tweets and emails have already been flowing toward St. Paul, though as much as the DFL needs to explain why a special interest group is allowed to have de facto veto power over this legislation, the Republicans in the Senate that walked away from a framework that achieved most of this popular objective have questions to answer, too.

As a transplanted Minnesotan, the fact that the state legislature is apparently done legislating for the year in late May is kind of mind-boggling too, but that's a column for another day and another section.

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And that's part of why I didn't take one side of the argument or the other. The question of sports gambling in Minnesota changed from "if" to "how" this year. If the multi-year "free the growler" effort is any indication, once the legislative question moves into that phase, it's only a matter of time, even if that amount of time is too much to satisfy the folks who want to place their bets legally.

Until then, you can just bet against the Vikings in your head like you've always done.

Brandon Veale is the sports editor of the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at bveale@duluthnews.com.

MORE FROM BRANDON VEALE:
More than 100 cars arrived in Duluth on Friday night to conclude a leg of the annual event, which started in Warwick, Rhode Island, and concludes Sunday in Fargo.

Brandon has been sports editor of the News Tribune since August 2021.
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