BISMARCK — Initially introduced in January, House Bill 1234 underwent a “hoghouse” change before being reintroduced to the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 17.
Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, said the bill had been completely amended and has a companion resolution, which would let voters decide if they want sports betting legalized in North Dakota.
House Concurrent Resolution 3032, introduced by Rep. Michael Howe, R-West Fargo, would put a measure on the November 2022 ballot on whether or not North Dakota should legalize sports betting.
“The only way to legalize sports wagering in North Dakota is to make a constitutional change,” he said. “It is the only way for North Dakota to join 25 other states, and the District of Columbia, to have legal regulated sports wagering.”
Howe said a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2018 struck down the federal ban on sports gambling, allowing states to legalize it.
“Tens of thousands of North Dakotans are sports wagering, albeit illegally,” he said. “It is estimated that North Dakota would bring in $7.2 million per biennium in tax revenue from sports wagering.”
HCR 3032 was initially given a 6-7 do not pass recommendation by the committee with one member absent from voting. However, after more discussion, and the absent member returning, it was voted on again and given a 9-5 do-pass recommendation.
Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, said that due to the vote being so close in committee, it would be best if the people of North Dakota could decide.
“This takes it to a vote of the people,” he said. “Clearly in the legislative body and in this committee there is a varying opinion,” he said. “I think we should give them a voice.”
Rebecca London testified in favor of legalizing sports wagering on behalf of DraftKings, an online sports betting company.
“This would let the people of North Dakota decide,” she said. “We believe it is a necessary step.”
London said there are no protections for thousands already illegally betting each year in North Dakota, and DraftKings would be able to provide consumer protections.
“This would quickly and effectively eradicate the illegal market,” she said.
Collette Brown, the executive director of the Gaming Commission at Spirit Lake, testified against the resolution as she felt it was not in the best interests of North Dakota.
“DraftKings don’t care (about North Dakota), they are trying to maximize their profits,” she said. “We shouldn’t send gaming revenue to the New York Stock Exchange.”
Brown added that another bill, HB 1448, would be more beneficial as it would allow the governor to negotiate and execute a Tribal-state compact allowing for online sports betting through a federally recognized Indian tribe.
When asked if the resolution would be beneficial for the tribes, Brown said she doesn’t believe so.
“The current state of how tribes are viewed, the whole (Dakota Access Pipeline) situation, I feel like we are all put together into one group against that,” she said. “Personally, I don’t think it would be the best thing for tribes to be put on the ballot asking to authorize sports betting.”
Kasper’s newly amended HB 1234 would be an “implementation bill” meant as a framework, should the voters choose to approve the measure.
“One of the things I think is important in this bill is that it not only allows mobile wagering for sports betting, but the establishment of kiosks,” Kasper said. “I see the kiosk opportunity as a job opportunity for our small towns.”
Kasper said this could help with businesses hit by the coronavirus as it could give customers another reason to go to the business.
Kasper’s amended bill includes the creation of a sports wagering commission, which would work within the Attorney General’s office.
“You would have a commission that would have oversight as well as the Attorney General,” he said.
A fiscal note was provided by the Office of the Attorney General, but it stated no fiscal impact could be determined at this time.
The committee amended the bill to remove the option of using a credit card while wagering, add a study on sports wagering in North Dakota and remove the option of wagering on college sports — an issue brought up by opponents of the bill.
The committee couldn’t muster the votes to get a do pass recommendation, but the bill was voted to not have a recommendation.
Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, said the amendments could help the bill clear the House.
“If things do proceed, they are in the best form that they could be in,” she said.