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Legalizing sports betting could be up to North Dakota voters

Published: Mar. 16, 2021 at 6:02 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Many states are jumping at the opportunity to legalize sports betting, and North Dakota is making its own push.

A Supreme Court case in 2018 struck down a federal ban on it, giving states the green light.

Lawmakers have attempted to legalize sports betting in the past without avail, but this session could be different.

One resolution is looking to leave the question up to voters and put the issue on the next general election ballot. If passed in 2022, its companion legislation would go into effect and sports betting would be able to pick up in 2023.

Twenty-five states and Washington, DC, have already legalized sports betting. Twenty-two states, including North Dakota, are introducing bills pushing for its legalization.

“This isn’t something just the mob does now, this is something that’s mainstream that’s regulated,” said Rep. Michael Howe, R-West Fargo.

Some states only offer in-person betting while others offer mobile and online options. Our state’s bill could offer both.

An Oxford study reports 140,000 North Dakotans are already betting illegally online.

“These are sophisticated online sportsbooks that consumers would likely have no idea that they’re illegal,” said Rebecca London, the Government Affairs Manager Draft Kings, a sports betting site.

If lawmakers passed the sports betting resolution, it would give the voters the power to decide and put the issue on the general election ballot. But some lawmakers think that may not be their place.

“If there’s such an overwhelming movement for online gambling, I would just leave it up to the public,” said Sen. Merrill Piepkorn, D-Fargo.

And tribal leaders are concerned legalization would further hurt their gaming industry, closing some casinos for good.

“Any further expansion of gaming in the state will definitely cause my tribe to close our entertainment destination, casino,” said Collette Brown, gaming director at the Spirit Lake Casino.

Those in support, however, said they have a plan.

After mass confusion following the passage of medical marijuana, lawmakers said the sports betting bill tied onto the resolution ensures there won’t be any confusion here.

“What are the voters of North Dakota going to expect of us? Put something on the ballot and say we’ll deal with it if it passes or put something on the ballot and say we’ve thought through this and we’re ready to implement if you vote yes,” said Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot.

Some are concerned the bill that passed through the House less than a month ago is completely different than the one before the Senate.

“It’s a bill that now has nothing good in it for North Dakota. Very seldom have I ever seen a bill get changed to the detriment of North Dakota citizens, North Dakota business owners and in favor of out of state companies,” said Dave Weiler, a lobbyist representing Western Distributing Company.

Although big gaming businesses will benefit, the new sports betting industry could bring in about $7.2 million in tax revenue for the state per biennium.

Next, the resolution and the bill with its amendments will be brought for a final vote in the Senate.

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