Minnesota Moves Closer to HHR Gambling Ban

Minnesota has taken a significant step toward the definitive prohibition of Historical Horse Racing (HHR) machines. This move comes as lawmakers approved a bill targeting the ban of these gambling devices, propelling it to the House floor for a vote.

The gaming screen of a Historical Horse Racing gaming machine. (Source: Omaha World Herald)

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The bill, HF5274, is a direct response to the Minnesota Racing Commission's (MRC) decision to legalize HHR at state racetracks. That move, made two weeks ago, has since been met with legislative resistance. The MRC had authorized 500 machines each for two facilities, Canterbury and Running Aces.

The controversy surrounding HHR machines lies in their resemblance to slot machines, which has sparked debate over their classification and the implications for the state's gambling landscape. Proponents of the ban argue that HHR machines constitute an expansion of gambling that requires legislative approval, while opponents see them as a modernization of the parimutuel betting system that could benefit the industry.

The bill's advancement is not without its complexities, as it also seeks to clarify the definition of card games and electronic gaming tables at racetracks. This legislative effort to draw clear boundaries around permissible gambling activities reflects a broader struggle to balance regulatory oversight with the interests of various stakeholders, including racetracks and tribal entities.

The debate has been further complicated by lawsuits filed by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, challenging both the stadium-style card games and the authorization of HHR machines. Currently, only federally recognized tribes can offer gambling in Minnesota, and the tribes and some lawmakers argue that the MRC had no authority when it approved race tracks' HHR operations.

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Tribal Casinos Face RICO Lawsuit

While state lawmakers will determine the legitimacy of HHR gambling, Minnesota tribes will spend their time responding to a lawsuit. Running Aces has filed a federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act claim that certain tribal casinos are conducting Class III card games that aren't included in the tribes' gaming compacts with the state.

This is claimed to be in violation of both the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and state laws. The IGRA, established in 1988, sets the framework for gaming operations on tribal lands and distinguishes between Class I, II, and III gaming, with Class III encompassing high-stakes games typically found in casinos, including card games like poker and blackjack.

The act requires such games to be explicitly addressed in tribal-state compacts. Running Aces' lawsuit suggests that the tribal casinos' actions have created unfair competitive advantages and could potentially disrupt the balance of gaming operations in the region. The tribes have not commented on the lawsuit.


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