North Dakota House Wants Voters to Decide Fate of Internet Gambling

Closeup of Man Making Sports Bets on His Phone

Highly conservative North Dakota is showing signs of relaxing its anti-gambling stand.

On Tuesday, the North Dakota House endorsed a pair of bipartisan resolutions and companion bills that will pave the way for legal internet gambling to operate in the state. The proposals will now move forward to the senate and if approved by both chambers, the measures could appear on the November 2022 ballot for voters to decide.

Rep. Kasper Pushing Since 2005

Although no income estimates were discussed by the proponents of the measure, supporters believe that state-sanctioned online poker and sports betting would create massive revenues for the state’s charitable causes, including its compulsive gambling treatment program.

Fargo Republican Rep. Jim Kasper has been pushing for internet poker in the Legislature since 2005 but has been unsuccessful with the Senate always killing his initiatives. Had Kasper’s early proposals succeeded, North Dakota would have been the first state to legalize online poker. Currently, a total of six U.S. states allow internet poker.

Rejecting Online Gambling Exclusively on Tribal Land

The Republican controlled House also rejected on Tuesday a proposal the Democrats that would have allowed the state’s five Native American Tribes to negotiate an agreement with the Governor to allow online poker and sports betting on Tribal land.

Under that measure, online gambling would only be operated by the five tribes, utilizing servers within the reservations. That proposal was not supported by the majority of the House members. The House also killed on Tuesday a bill that would have allowed betting on previously recorded horse races.

Taking Advantage of Supreme Court’s 2018 Decision

North Dakota is one of a dozen states that are trying to take advantage of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to repeal the 1992 Professional Sports and Amateur Act in 2018, which opened the door for the legalization of sports betting in the United States.

Once opposed to gambling, North Dakota voters and legislators have altered their beliefs over the years. Voters firmly approved a state lottery in 2002 after rejecting three lottery measures in the previous 12 years. Along with bingo, blackjack , pull-tab tickets and other charitable games, it has become a multi-million annual industry for the state.

North Dakota Legislative Committee Endorses Sports Betting Resolution

Closeup of Man Making Sports Bets on His Phone

A House Committee endorsed a resolution on Wednesday that would allow North Dakotans to vote if legal sports betting should be allowed in the state.

The bipartisan resolution was given a “do-pass” recommendation and will now head to the Full House for consideration. If it is approved by both chambers, the North Dakota sports betting bill could appear in the 2022 ballot. A bill that will set the rules for the operation of gambling in the state will be forwarded to the Full House by the legislative committee without an endorsement.

Said the sponsor of the resolution, West Fargo Republican Rep Michael Howe:

“The only way to legalize this is to put this to a vote of the people of North Dakota. I feel the majority of North Dakotans want this.”

Change of Position

North Dakota lawmakers and voters were once hostile to expanding gambling in the state. However, they’ve had a change in position since the United States Supreme Court repealed the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018. In recent years, the Peace Garden State has allowed more games of chance. However, a North Dakota sports betting bill was rejected in the Legislature two years ago.

The matter could also be put to a vote by North Dakotans themselves using an initiated measure. The state’s constitution gives it citizens the right to bypass the Legislature and place a constitutional amendment directly in on the ballot.

Generate Revenues

Supporters of legal North Dakota sports betting say that the measure would generate revenues for the state and its charitable causes, including its compulsive gambling treatment program. On the other hand, those opposed to the proposal, including GOP Bismarck Rep. Larry Klemin who is the chairman of the judiciary committee, worry that expanding gambling in the state would cause more gambling addiction problems in the state.

A spokesman for Gov. Doug Burgum said on Wednesday that the governor will not stand in the way of any attempt to legalize North Dakota sports betting but added that he won’t advocate it either.