Port: Veterans group says they aren't involved in charitable gaming, but is that true?
"I guess it depends on what your definition of 'involved' is."
MINOT, N.D. — According to a regulatory complaint filed by Attorney General Drew Wrigley's office, an interconnected group of gaming companies used the Wall of Honor, a nonprofit focused on honoring military veterans, as a tool to circumvent charitable gaming laws and facilitate business for themselves.
The response from the Wall of Honor has been to claim that they have nothing to do with charitable gaming. "The Wall of Honor is not in charitable gaming," Tammy Ibach, the executive director of the group, claimed in a recent letter to the editor.
Gerald Parker, the general manager of Western Distributing Company, one of the gaming interests named in Wrigley's complaint, made a similar claim in a news release and video published on the company's website.
"The facts of the Wall of Honor is that they are NOT involved in charitable gaming," Parker said in his written statement.
Yet, per a mountain of publicly available records and other information, the ties between the gaming interests and the Wall of Honor are deep.
Dave Weiler, a former state lawmaker listed on the Wall of Honor website as a "representative" of the group, is also, per the Secretary of State's Office, a registered lobbyist for Western Distributing.
A search of the secretary of state's online database for business records shows that Ibach is the registered agent for Wall of Honor Inc., a nonprofit entity. But, per a January 2022 annual report filing, a Bismarck-based attorney named Jonathan Sanstead was listed as the registered agent, using the same physical address and P.O. Box for the nonprofit as Advanced Gaming Systems, a for-profit company also named in Wrigley's report.
AGS also lists Sanstead as a registered agent. Ibach is listed in the "officers and directors" section. A 2020 filing indicates the use of a tradename, "Wall of Honor," which also owned by Sanstead and registered with the secretary of state.
Sanstead is also, per years of filings with the Secretary of State's Office, the registered agent for the North Dakota Gaming Alliance. That's a lobbying group purporting to represent the interests of charities, bars and restaurants, and gaming industry companies, though given that many of those interests compete with one another, I'm not sure how the group can do that without some serious conflicts of interest.
Speaking of conflicts of interest, as I reported back in January, state Rep. Mike Motschenbacher, a Republican elected from a Bismarck-area district, is also the executive director of the Gaming Alliance. He splits his time at the state capitol between his official duties and his services to the gaming industry.
Wrigley's complaint states that Sanstead "recently became a part owner" of Western Distributing and another gaming company, Plains Gaming Distributing Inc., which is also named in the report.
Per the secretary of state, the current registered agent for Western Distributing is a man named David Wisdom. The same David Wisdom that Ibach told me, in an April 13 interview, was the founder of the Wall of Honor.
The registered agent for Plains Gaming is Debra Stoltman, who is also listed as an officer on annual report filings for Western Distributing.
Again, both Ibach, and Parker, claim that the Wall of Honor is not involved in charitable gaming. And yet, the organization was founded by a man, Wisdom, who makes a living from the charitable gaming industry. The Wall of Honor's registered agent, for years, was another man with interests in multiple charitable gaming businesses, who also serves as the registered agent for a gaming industry lobbying group.
The Wall of Honor has, on its staff, a lobbyist for one of Wisdom's gaming businesses.
Is the Wall of Honor "involved" in charitable gaming? I suppose that depends on what your definition of "involved" is.
There's no record that the Wall of Honor, itself, operates something like electronic pull-tab machines or blackjack tables. So if we define "involved" that way, they're not.
But the Wall of Honor was organized, and in many ways is run, by people deeply involved in the gaming industry. And what Wrigley's office is alleging in their regulatory complaint is that these people used the Wall of Honor to facilitate business for their gaming industry businesses in contravention to state law.
Wrigley's complaint is still in process. The companies named in it, along with representatives for the Wall of Honor, are disputing his conclusions.
Whatever comes of that, a question North Dakotans should be asking themselves is if we should allow this sort of overlap between for-profit gambling interests and nonprofit organizations. Because, again, if we're going to talk about conflicts of interest, that seems like a big one in a state where all gaming must be under the auspices of a charity.