How long does it take a state legislature to complete a 180° turn on gambling law? About 130 years, in the case of Minnesota. A politico time-traveling from 1850s Minnesota to the present-day would barely recognize gambling law from his days of total prohibition on all games of chance.
But today? Liberal social laws, progressive legislators and a large Native American have come together to create a large and successful casino industry in Minnesota. As of this writing, the Land of 10,000 Lakes plays host to some 18 Native American-owned and -operated gaming halls, plus two full-on racino complexes.
Population: 5.457 million (off. 2014 est.)
Area: 86,943 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 18 to 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 21
Number of Casinos: 20
• In 1879, George McGill invented the world’s first modern stapler in Spring Valley, Minnesota.
• Minneapolis claims to be home to more golfers per capita than any U.S. city.
• And the state claims more recreational boaters than any other state.
• Mosquitos have officially been declared a public nuisance in Minnesota.
As is the case with several U.S. territories cum states, all forms of gambling were illegalized under territorial law years before admission to the Union. In 1851, gambling in Minnesota was outlawed; the first state constitution codified this into law as section 5 of Article XIII: “The legislature shall never authorize any lottery or the sale of lottery tickets.” (Note that usage of “lottery” is akin to “games of chance” in the first half of the law’s wording.)
Unlike many states in the Midwest and South, Minnesota did not get legal pari-mutuel wagering in the 1930s as a temporary fix to state-level financial problems of the Great Depression. In fact, legal wagering on horse races would not be addressed by legislators until 1971 – and didn’t actually arrive in Minnesota until ’82!
In 1945, charity bingo could be played legally. And, as though to hammer home the strictness of anti-gambling laws in Minnesota, then-governor Luther Youngdahl enacted into a law a full ban on possession of slot machines.
Ultimately, however, the 1945 law allowed the opening of bingo halls on Native American reservation land in Minnesota beginning in the late 80s. In ’84, the state legislature amended Youngdahl’s law to decriminalize possession of electronic slots and video poker, though the actual awarding of cash prizes on the game remained illegal. This in turn led to “Indian bingo halls” to offer slots and video poker in addition to bingo – even before the passage of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988.
Perhaps in response to IGRA, late 1988 finally saw a change to the original statute from 1851, adding “other than authorizing a lottery and sale of lottery tickets for a lottery operated by the state” to the original 13-word law.
An unofficial moratorium on expansion of gambling ruled over non-Native American-based gambling in Minnesota until 1997, when state legislators looked for ways to fund a new professional baseball stadium. While proposals to use funds attained from casino gaming outside reservation lands died in the state legislature, changes to certain other laws ultimately made licensing of casinos possible. In 1999, for example, the Canterbury Park racetrack was allowed to open “non-banked” table games, i.e. poker, in its racinos.
Of Minnesota’s 18 Native American-run casinos, only the little town of Prior Lake hosts two casinos. The Mystic Lake is said to be the biggest casino in Minnesota and is great for those on a mammoth spending spree, because it’s just minutes from the ridiculous Mall of America.
Two horse racing venues are open in Minnesota; these are the Canterbury Park in Shakopee and Running Aces Casino & Racetrack in Columbus; note that these host the only legal poker rooms in Minnesota. The Canterbury racetrack and casino are said to be thriving, even in the poor economic times of the 2010s.
Well, it’s all about the drinking age in Minnesota. If the casino serves alcohol on-site, you must be at least 21 years old to play. Otherwise, 18-year-olds and up are admitted.
No disrespect to any brilliant Minnesota gamblers out there, but we’re going out on a limb to say that the most famous Minnesota gambler is a fictional character that wore the very place’s name as an emblem of pride: George Hegerman. Or perhaps you might recognize him by his nom de jeux: Minnesota Fats.
And no, we’re not talking about the dude who played Willie Mosconi a buncha times on Wide World of Sports in the 1970s; he ripped the name from the original Minnesota Fats, as poartrayed on-screen by Jackie Gleason in the excellent 1961 Paul Newman vehicle The Hustler.
Despite (or maybe because of) its down-and-out main character, The Hustler certainly turned on an entire generation to the science/art of gambling, of hustling to make a living. Badass, that Minnesota Fats.
Thanks to the reforms of the 1980s, a full range of casino gaming is available at native American-run casinos throughout the state as well as at the two racetrack sites. No word yet on whether intrastate online gambling in Minnesota will be legalized soon, but as one of the ocuntry’s most liberal and wealthy states, it’s probably just a matter of time…
The pendulum has swung far on gambling in Minnesota from those restrictive days of the 1850s. The question for the short term future is whether the reworking of state law in the 1980s to theoretically allow opening of casios on land outside the reservations will ever be put into practice. A 2016 report from the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association showed that the state’s 18 tribal casinos generate about $1.8 billion for the state annually plus another $482 million created in private transaction with non-casino businesses. Also noted was the then-current employment of 13,371, making the Native American casino industry in Minnesota the state’s 14th-largest employer – ahead of the U.S. Postal Service!
This news was big news in Minnesota; we’ll see if visions of greater dollars are envisioned by state legislators in the near future…