HANKINSON, N.D. — Area sports fans will soon be able to wager on Bison football, Fighting Hawks hockey and much more at Dakota Magic Casino in Hankinson.
The casino, operated by the Dakota Nation Gaming Enterprise roughly one hour south of Fargo, plans to open its Dakota Nation Sportsbook as soon as Dec. 1 with the latest possible opening in January, pending regulatory approvals.
The decision to add sports betting comes after the Supreme Court ruled in 2018 to strike down the federal ban on state authorization of sports betting. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, passed in 1992, had previously precluded states from legislating sports betting.
Since the 2018 decision, states and tribal casinos have raced to legalize sports betting and welcome an industry which according to the National Conference of State Legislature has raked millions into state coffers. Twenty-nine states now offer legal sports betting, either statewide or at tribal casinos, the American Gaming Association reported.
Ever since the Supreme Court opened the door to sports betting, Dakota Magic has been eyeing adding a sportsbook to the casino, chief marketing officer Rojelio Rubio said. “In North Dakota, sports betting was negotiated prior and approved in the state gaming compact between the tribal nation and the state,” Rubio explained. “It wasn’t until the Supreme Court ruling that Dakota Magic was able to jump at the opportunity to provide sports betting.”
The Dakota Nation Sportsbook is set to feature a “Vegas-style” lounge with large televisions, leather seats with cell phone charging stations, a limited menu, drinks and a “massive” wall-to-wall video screen, Rubio said. While wagering is set to open shortly on-premise through a clerk or kiosks, the lounge isn’t expected to open until early next year, in time for the Super Bowl.
Other modes of wagering “will be discussed at a later time,” Rubio noted, adding that any off-site betting would need the green-light from the state and tribal governments.
In addition to the Hankinson casino, Dakota Nation Sportsbook will be available at Dakota Connection in Sisseton and Dakota Sioux in Watertown. South Dakota’s Commission on Gaming moved to allow sports betting, beginning with casinos in Deadwood, in May.
Gamblers will be able to wager on both collegiate and professional sporting events, meaning Red River Valley fans can lay down action on North Dakota State and University of North Dakota athletics. Odds will be set by International Game Technology PlaySports, Rubio said.
A legal underdog
The North Dakota Legislature considered legalizing sports betting during both the 2019 and 2021 sessions, though measures failed to pass both times.
In 2019, a bill to crack open the door to sports betting was defeated by a 37-8 vote. Two years later, House Resolution 3032 sought to let voters answer the sports betting question with a referendum on the 2022 ballots. The resolution passed overwhelmingly in the House but went down by a single vote in the Senate. House Bill 1234, another sports betting bill proposed this year, also failed to pass.
Statewide sports betting faces an uphill climb in North Dakota, with fierce opposition coming from both higher education institutions and tribal governments.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association opposes sports betting, as do local education leaders. In 2019, North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said betting on college sporting events could lead to tampering as well as heap pressure on student-athletes. Hagerott, alongside NDSU President Dean Bresciani, again testified against the resolution in 2021.
‘DraftKings don’t care’
Tribal lobbies also oppose the expansion of sports betting outside of tribal casinos.
Collette Brown, the executive director of the Gaming Commission at Spirit Lake, testified against the 2021 proposal, targeting Boston-based DraftKings, which argued in favor of the bill. “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.”
United Tribes Gaming Association executive director Cynthia Monteau also opposed the 2021 measures, saying it would eat into tribal casinos’ livelihoods. “Gaming is, in most cases, our sole source of revenue for jobs and economic development,” Monteau said. “H.B. 1234 is an expansion of gaming outside of tribal casinos, and we are adamantly opposed.”
Additionally, socially conservative legislators have voiced their disinterest in expanding sports betting. West Fargo Republican Sen. David Clemens said that sports betting would be another vice for citizens, while Jamestown Republican Rep. Bernie Satrom questioned whether or not the social cost was worth the tax revenue.
In response to Satrom’s inquiry, Fargo Rep. Jim Kasper, a sponsor of H.B. 1234, said that sports betting is less likely to cause gambling addictions because it requires thought and skill.
Kasper and others have also noted that illegal sports betting is already taking place in the state. Legalizing sports betting would enable the state to capture that revenue. “The people of North Dakota are already sports betting,” Kasper commented. “They find ways to do it. I’m saying we legalize it in our state, and we tax it so that we have the benefit of what’s already happening for the citizens of our state and our state coffers.”