Historically, change in gambling laws has come incrementally and slowly. Despite the sports betting bills in nearby Minnesota and Nebraska, sportsbook operators in Iowa shouldn’t worry about losing handle from out-of-state bettors anytime soon.
Neither bill looks like they will have the momentum to cross the finish line in the current legislative sessions. Still, their presence indicates progress toward gambling expansion in these states.
Minnesota sports betting bill facing huge obstacle
The market may be ready for legal Minnesota sports betting, but the gambling industry in the state isn’t. MN Sen. Roger Chamberlain has re-filed his legalization bill from last year, with some amendments. Tribal casinos in the state aren’t buying, however.
The communicated concern is that casino operators are uncertain how legal wagering done either online or at commercial racetracks will affect their business. Melanie Benjamin, the CEO of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians, has downplayed the impact of new revenue on the state as well:
“As it starts to evolve in other states, we need to look at the data of how it would affect Minnesota. Currently, we’re looking at a possible 4.5% increase. That’s not a lot of economic benefit, so we’re proposing that we wait and see what’s going to happen in a year or so and how that will impact the tribes.”
Chamberlain has maintained that legalization is good for other reasons, however. He cites the likely high number of Minnesotans who are either wagering with illegal channels or crossing the state line into Iowa to place legal bets online there. There is some validity to his points.
The Twin Cities include several professional sports teams, including the Minnesota Vikings, which drives lots of betting interesting despite the lack of legal options. The Twin Cities are a few hours away via car from the Iowa border, thus giving Minnesotans an incentive to use local bookies or offshore websites.
Regardless of its merits, the opposition of tribal casino operators to any gambling expansion they don’t control is substantial. That means Chamberlain’s bill is unlikely to become law until some of that staunch animosity subsides.
On Iowa’s western border, casinos don’t hold as much sway because they don’t exist. However, the same prejudices that kept casinos out of Nebraska for so long are sure to be hostile to more gambling expansion.
Nebraska sports betting fights the tide
Earlier this week, NE Sen. Brett Lindstrom made a similar case for legalizing wagering on sporting events in his state. His pitch is similar to the campaign that finally pushed casinos over the hump in November.
In the general election, the state’s voters amended their constitution to allow racetracks to convert to racinos. Lindstrom is harping on the same point: Nebraskans are crossing the border to place legal bets in Iowa and thereby taking their tax dollars elsewhere.
Lindstrom’s bill would go the same route for sports betting. The bill would put a statewide referendum on the ballot in 2022. However, that could be too much too soon for some important figures in NE.
When NE voters approved the casino referendum, they did so against the wishes of powerful voices, including their governor. It was also the fourth attempt at legalizing casino games in Nebraska. While the passage of the casino measure may signal a new electorate, turnout tends to drop in midterm elections.
Also, historically, the voters in midterm elections tend to skew more conservative. That suggests a sports betting referendum may stand a better chance in 2024. Additionally, there’s no guarantee the Nebraska Legislature will pass Lindstrom’s bill.
Ultimately, legalization in Nebraska may fall upon activists, just as it did with casino gaming. What seems clear on both of these counts is that IA sportsbooks shouldn’t fear losing their traffic from MN or NE bettors any time soon.