Forum Editorial: North Dakota voters should decide whether to legalize sports betting

Thousands of North Dakota residents indulge in sports betting. Because the practice is illegal in the state, it escapes regulation and does not contribute revenue.

Editorial FSA

Let’s face it: Ours is a sports-obsessed culture. Many of us love to root for our favorite teams, filling arenas, stadiums and other sports venues large and small.

Some of us — actually, quite a few of us — like to spice their sports consumption by wagering on games, something that’s illegal under the North Dakota Constitution.

Like it or not, legalized sports betting is growing in popularity as more states allow it. According to the Sports Betting Alliance, 35 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico allow some form of sports betting.

Should North Dakota jump on the bandwagon? It’s a thorny question that’s best left to voters, since allowing legal sports betting would require amending the state constitution.

House Concurrent Resolution 3002 would allow voters in 2024 to decide whether the state should allow legalized, regulated sports betting.


The resolution, which narrowly passed the House on a vote of 49 to 44, now is before the Senate.

Legalized or not, lots of people indulge in sports betting. About 140,000 North Dakota residents are betting illegally on sports, wagering about $355 million and generating about $36 million for the sports books, according to estimates by the American Gaming Association and Oxford Economics.

Those figures are cited by Rep. Greg Stemen, R-Fargo, a sponsor of the resolution, who argues that legalization would allow the state to conduct oversight and regulate sports betting, which now happens in the shadows, often through unsavory, offshore sports bookmakers.

Collectively, 27 states that allow sports betting collected $2.3 billion in revenues

“As a country, we have seen few, if any, betting scandals surrounding college sports teams in states with legalized sports betting,” he testified.

But moral objections lead the reasons for opposing legalized sports betting.

North Dakota Family Alliance Legal Action argues that sports betting is not “morally justifiable.” Mark Jorritsma, the alliance’s executive director, estimates that the state already has more than 12,000 adults with gambling problems. Legalizing sports betting, he said, will only increase that number.

The North Dakota Catholic Conference also opposes legalized sports betting, arguing that it “commodifies the human person” and that gambling can “undermine the common good.”


One of the most vocal opponents of legalized sports betting is Mark Hagerott, chancellor of the North Dakota University System, who fears it could corrupt collegiate athletics.

“On the face of it, sports betting exponentially undermines the integrity of the games and renders unpaid athletes vulnerable to money flowing through their respective games and contingent on their performance,” the chancellor testified.

For years, North Dakota resisted a state lottery. By 2002, however, after surrounding states already had lotteries, voters decided to amend the state constitution to allow a lottery, which became available in 2004.

If the sports betting issue is placed on the ballot in 2024, and approved, the North Dakota Legislature in 2025 would take public testimony to shape legalized sports betting.

We think it’s now time for North Dakota voters to decide whether the state should follow the growing majority of states that allow sports betting. It’s a controversial issue, with valid arguments on both sides, and best decided directly by voters.

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