FARGO — North Dakota voters may get to hold ‘em or fold ‘em if the Legislature puts a constitutional amendment to legalize online poker on the ballot.
Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, introduced on Jan. 14 House Concurrent Resolution 3012, which would put a measure to allow the internet game on the 2022 general election ballot. If the measure is approved by the Legislature and gets a simple majority from voters, the state Constitution would change, and the process of how to bring online poker to North Dakota would begin.
“The country is just going more and more into gaming online,” Kasper said Thursday, Jan. 21. “Let’s not leave North Dakota as one of the few states that doesn’t allow it.”
Kasper said he played poker as a kid, but he became interested again when he saw the World Series of Poker on TV in 2003. It wasn’t the typical five card draw he knew. Instead, it was Texas Hold ‘em, which became increasingly popular in the 2000s.
After playing himself, he read in a magazine about the prospect of internet poker. That led to him drafting legislation in 2005 that would have legalized online poker in the state through a constitutional amendment.
“The poker industry worldwide was watching my bill,” he said.
The amendment passed the House but got a bad flop while in the Senate. The U.S. Justice Department opined that internet gambling of any kind was illegal, thanks to the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 that prohibited betting or wagering over wire communications.
The constitutional amendment was busted when the Senate voted it down 43-3.
The Justice Department has flipped in its opinion on whether online card gambling is allowed, with the latest stance in 2019 stating the Wire Act’s ban applies to all forms of internet gambling, and not just sports.
The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week against the Justice Department, saying the Wire Act does not apply to nonsports betting.
At least five states — Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan — have legalized online poker. Kasper said he wanted to introduce the legislation again to see where it goes.
The legislation in North Dakota does not give details on how the game would be taxed or managed. It simply would allow voters to decide if online poker can occur in the state and if North Dakota would license and regulate the game.
Details on taxation and management would come later. The Legislature would set up a committee in 2023 or future sessions to figure out the details if voters approve the measure.
It’s possible the state could join a group of states, he said.
“There would be a lot of work that goes into it,” he said.
It’s unclear how much income online poker would draw from North Dakota. The poker industry estimated the 2005 legislation would have stacked up $500 million in annual taxes, with 80% going to reduce property taxes, Kasper said. Annual property taxes back then averaged about $400 million, he added.
Typically, proceeds from gambling in North Dakota go to "educational, charitable, patriotic, fraternal, religious or other public-spirited uses," according to state law.
Kasper said he hasn’t been able to gauge support in the Legislature, but the proposed measure has sponsorship from both Republicans and Democrats.
“It’s just a game I enjoy, I think other people should have the opportunity to play it as well,” he said.