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N.D. votes to join multistate lottery

North Dakota lottery proponents hit the jackpot in Tuesday's election after a string of earlier losses at the polls.

With 655 of 665 precincts reporting, by a margin of 63 percent to

37 percent, voters approved a measure to amend the state's constitution to direct North Dakota to join a multistate lottery.

"Most North Dakotans concluded we were wasting a lot of money, and they wanted it stopped," said Rep. Andy Maragos, R-Minot, a leading lottery proponent. "I think this is a reflection of the good sense of North Dakotans in realizing what we're doing to ourselves."

Lottery backers argued strenuously that thousands of state residents already play lottery games -- but they drive to Minnesota or other border states to spend their money when taking their chances to earn instant riches.


That argument apparently resonated among voters who are aware of gloomy state revenue forecasts. The state faces a projected $67 million shortfall in the next budget cycle.

In all, after prizes are paid, Maragos expects the state of North Dakota will collect $8 million to $15 million per biennium from lottery proceeds. But opponents argued the figure likely will be more like $4 million to $6 million.

In a less controversial proposal to change the state constitution, voters approved an amendment to ensure conservation groups that buy farmland will continue to pay property taxes. Measure 1 was favored by 51 percent to 49 percent.

Proponents of Measure 1, which faced no organized opposition, emphasized conservation groups already voluntarily paid property taxes in spite of a constitutional exemption for nonprofit organizations.

After the so-called Youth Initiative, the lottery proposal competed most for voters' attention.

North Dakota, which has long allowed charitable gambling, has been an island of lottery abstention surrounded by lottery-playing neighboring states.

Maragos estimated North Dakotans now spend $5 million on Minnesota lottery games.

Five of the top 10 lottery ticket sales sites in Minnesota are in Moorhead and East Grand Forks, which border North Dakota.


M&H Gas in Moorhead sold $1.7 million in lottery tickets last year, almost twice the volume of the second-place spot, the Minneapolis airport.

Hornbacher's in Moorhead, with $894,045 in sales, ranked eighth.

The most common multi-state lottery is Powerball, offered in Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana and 20 other states.

Critics opposed the lottery on moral grounds, arguing it will increase the number of gambling addicts and the social problems that accompany them.

The state shouldn't be encouraging a vice, said Warren DeKrey, Bismarck, chairman of Citizens Against Legalizing the Lottery.

"The biggest concern is that we're going to have the state involved in the gambling business," he said.

"I'm afraid video gambling will be next."

Opponents said lotteries, in essence, are a form of regressive taxation because they draw heavily from poor people hoping to improve their lot in life.


But Maragos and other supporters argued games lotteries, which do not offer instant results, are not as addictive as bingo, horse racing, video lottery and casino games.

North Dakota voters rejected lottery proposals in 1986 and 1988 -- before neighboring states joined the Powerball multi-state lottery --and defeated a video slot machine "lottery" in 1996.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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