ST. PAUL — A bill meant to ease pressure on Minnesota horse racing tracks affected by the coronavirus pandemic is a step closer to becoming law.

The Minnesota House of Representatives on Friday, May 15, passed the measure in a 97-34 vote. There are only a few days left in the normal legislative session for the state Senate to take it up.

By granting racetracks the temporary flexibility to put purse money toward capital projects and collect additional fees from remote wagering programs, the bill seeks to relieve financial strain caused by the pandemic and the social restrictions meant to curb it. Casino and racetrack industry representatives previously told lawmakers that the crisis dealt a blow to their bottom line.

They may be cut another break if the bill becomes law, since it would allow them to hold fewer racing days during the pandemic than they are typically required to in order to keep their operating licenses. If not, races might be held at otherwise empty tracks.

To the dismay of some in the industry, a provision that would have temporarily allowed Minnesotans to bet on races by phone or computer was removed from the bill while it was still in committee. Lawmakers took it off the table in a compromise with the trade group representing tribal-owned casinos in the state, which said the provision constituted the kind of off-reservation gambling expansion it has long opposed.

Placing remote bets on out-of-state races, meanwhile, remains legal in the state.