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Arrest of senator in Minnesota could upend sports betting bill, other business

| By Jill R. Dorson
The fate of any business – including legalising sports betting – getting done in the Minnesota legislature was thrown into jeopardy late last week. Senator Nicole Mitchell was arrested early on Monday (22 April) morning, and has since been removed from her committee and caucus assignments, according to a statement from Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy.
minnesota mitchell arrest sports betting

In what could be a blow to the Minnesota sports betting bill, Senator Mitchell was arrested for a burglary that she said is a family situation blown out of proportion. She said in a statement that “I am confident that a different picture will emerge when all the facts are know.”

Mitchell said she wanted to retrieve her deceased father’s ashes and was checking in on a family member with Alzheimer’s, according to media reports. The arrest took place in the early morning hours of 22 April.

However the criminal situation plays out, Mitchell’s arrest has left the Minnesota senate in a quandary. It now has 33 Democrats and 33 Republicans. The Democrats, who hold the majority, will now need Republican votes to pass legislation. That could upend sports betting, historical horse racing and many other issues.

Bill headed for hearing in taxes committee

Democratic representative Zack Stephenson has been championing legal sports betting for four years. This time around, he has a bill that is set for a hearing in the house taxes committee on Tuesday (30 April) morning. Stephenson has a second bill working its way through the house that would ban historic horse racing machines. There are also several legal sports betting bills moving through the senate.

Should either bill get out of the house, the Democrats currently don’t have a majority in the senate. Stephenson would need Republican senators to sign on.

Stephenson has made some progress

Stephenson earlier this session brokered a deal between charitable gaming and the state’s Indian tribes. At the time, it appeared to move a deal for online sports betting forward. The house bill would give the tribes exclusivity and allow for digital gaming with platforms tethered to tribal casinos.

The state’s two horse tracks would receive $625,000 under the bill, but would not be entitled to offer wagering. The tracks have vigorously fought the bill. Previous senate bills have included the tracks, a non-starter for the tribes.

The pathway to legal sports betting has been muddied by lawsuits. It has also been hindered by a decision to allow HHR by the Minnesota Racing Commission and other issues.

Mitchell is the vice-chair of the senate state and local government and veterans elections committee. The committee currently has two legal sports betting bills assigned to it.

Minnesota’s legislative session is set to end on 20 May.

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