Legalize sports betting in Minnesota

Opinion editor’s note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.

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There’s something noble, but perhaps also naive, about the view that Minnesota should progress no further into the company of states that allow betting. We didn’t allow a state lottery, until we did, or electronic pulltabs, until we did, or pari-mutuel betting on horses, until we did. We didn’t allow casinos until our state’s tribes took the initiative.

At each step, Minnesota dropped its veils reluctantly. Now it appears torn about whether to join the growing majority of states that permit commercial gambling on sports. Reluctant or not, Minnesota’s leaders should acknowledge that it is time to join the club, and approve sports betting during this legislative session.

In our view, the reluctance is a good thing. It suggests that Minnesotans are wise to the dangers that come with a further expansion of gambling in our state. Much about the creation of a sports gambling infrastructure has to be done right to minimize those dangers. Proceeds must be shared equitably, regulation must follow best practices, and care must be taken to provide for those most vulnerable to gambling’s addictive lure.

Can our state avert the kind of personal catastrophe that has engulfed Ippei Mizuhara, interpreter for the L.A. Dodgers star Shohei Otani? It’s worth noting that sports betting is still illegal in California. The example may be extreme, involving the apparent theft of millions of dollars to cover Mizuhara’s gambling debts, but the case is unique only in scale. Theft, fraud, embezzlement, lying to conceal one’s losses — all of these are the kinds of consequences that routinely damage families and destroy careers due to gambling addiction. Estimates are that 1.3% of Minnesota adults are problem gamblers. Among Minnesotans who acknowledge gambling from time to time, an estimated 13% are considered at-risk.

Yet that risk exists now. Treatment options have their work cut out for them, but they also exist now. What does not exist now is any meaningful opportunity to regulate the danger that comes from sports betting. Minnesotans are not immune — at least not if they are willing to drive for a few hours in any direction, or if they can download apps that allow them to do their betting online with an offshore betting platform.

One modification that may make problem gambling less of a danger — and some say would make sports betting less fun — is contained in an amendment to the Senate bill now under consideration. The amendment, offered by Sen. Jordan Rasmusson, R-Fergus Falls, would require that gambling sites stop accepting bets once a game has begun. We’re not sure that’s a good idea, but it is an example of states’ ability to accommodate local variations.

Dozens of states have passed laws allowing some form of sports betting within their borders since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door in 2018. Minnesota now finds itself in a situation that is familiar from the days when cannabis was outlawed. When enough states have moved to legalize a substance or an activity, the holdouts cannot effectively protect their citizens from being exposed to it. And if they try, they will succeed only in denying their people the protections that can be provided to activities that take place in the open. Not incidentally, they will also forgo the benefits that might be realized.

In the interest of transparency, we must acknowledge that the Star Tribune stands to realize some of the benefits of sports gambling. Media organizations around the country have generated revenue with coverage of interest to gamblers and through partnerships with firms that facilitate betting. The Star Tribune says it will do the same, while taking care to keep its news, opinion and sports journalists free of any involvement or conflicts of interest.

It is not the job of the Star Tribune Editorial Board to advance the company’s business objectives. Nor should we oppose an initiative merely because our employer favors it. We think commercial sports betting offers benefits as well as risks. We look to our state government to manage the risks, and allow Minnesotans to enjoy the benefits.

Originally Appeared Here

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About the Author: Rayne Chancer