BISMARCK — The legalization of sports betting and online gambling could go to North Dakota voters after House lawmakers advanced legislation Tuesday, Feb. 23, that would put both issues on next year's general election ballot.

Relaxing state gambling laws has been a perennial issue in the North Dakota Legislature, but opposition to gambling among lawmakers and voters has softened over the last two decades. Gambling opponents have argued that expanding the legal boundaries around the practice would exacerbate gambling addiction problems, while backers have pushed for new gambling laws as a way to bring in new revenue for the state and charitable institutions.

Sports betting

With a 70-24 vote, members of the House overwhelmingly supported House Concurrent Resolution 3032, which would give North Dakota voters the power to legalize sports betting in the November 2022 elections.

If voters approve the practice, the particulars of the industry in North Dakota would be governed by House Bill 1234, which also advanced Tuesday. This framework bill would establish a five-member commission within the North Dakota Attorney General’s office to regulate sports gambling in the state.

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Since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision cleared the path for states to legalize sports betting, many states have jumped on the opportunity to legalize the practice, while some two dozen others are considering legislation to follow suit.

“By allowing the people to vote on it, we put this to rest once and for all,” said Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck.

Online poker

House lawmakers also advanced Tuesday House Concurrent Resolution 3012 to put the legalization of internet poker on the 2022 general election ballot. The resolution cleared the chamber in a 54-40 vote.

The resolution to legalize online poker was introduced by Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, who has unsuccessfully pushed the issue in the Legislature since 2005.

"There's thousands of people in the state of North Dakota who are playing online poker. It's not regulated; it's not taxed," said Kasper, who cited a poker industry estimate that his 2005 legislation would have stacked up $500 million in annual taxes for the state.

The parameters of the industry would be governed by House Bill 1389, which also advanced in the House on Tuesday.

Tribal gaming

Separately, the House defeated House Bill 1448 on Tuesday, which would have authorized the state's five tribal nations to negotiate an agreement with the governor for the legalization of sports betting and online gambling on tribal lands, contingent on the approval of the statewide ballot measures next year.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers spoke in favor of the bill, advocating for it to establish "a level playing field" between tribal and non-tribal citizens in North Dakota in the gambling industry.

Kasper spoke against the bill out of concern that the language of the bill could limit the legalization of online gaming to tribal lands and said the tribes would have the opportunity to legalize sports betting and online poker if the practices are approved by voters.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at awillis@forumcomm.com.