BISMARCK — The people of North Dakota may get to decide whether they want to legalize sports betting in the state in the 2022 general election.
On Wednesday, Jan. 27, the North Dakota House Judiciary Committee heard testimony regarding House Bill 1234, which would legalize sports betting in North Dakota. Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, a sponsor of the bill, opened his testimony in support by stating that the bill as it is written will not work and that it will be heavily amended. The new draft, which will include “the nuts and bolts” for how sports betting would work in the state if it is approved, will be presented to the committee next week, he said.
In addition to the bill, Kasper is drafting a constitutional amendment that would allow North Dakotans to vote on whether they want to legalize sports betting in the state.
“The people of North Dakota are already sports betting,” Kasper said during the session. “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.”
In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to lift a federal ban on sports gambling. Twenty states now allow some form of sports betting, while several more, including South Dakota, have voted to allow sports betting but have not yet implemented it.
A 2019 bill to legalize sports betting in North Dakota passed the House but failed in the state Senate.
“The goal of the bill is not to encourage gambling,” Kasper said. “The goal of the bill is to say we’re going to get in with the rest of the states.
“(Sports betting) is now open to all 50 states," he said. "What I’ve found in my research is about half of the states have already implemented sports betting and it is increasing dramatically.”
Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown, asked Kasper if he had an estimate for the social cost of allowing sports betting. Kasper responded by saying it is his belief that, because sports betting is a game of thought and skill, it would be less attractive to compulsive gamblers or gambling addicts than other types of gaming.
“I would suspect that people who do sports betting are not, in many cases, the compulsive type of people compared with e-tabs or slot machines,” Kasper said. “That has a magic about drawing people in who have a problem. When you’re sports betting, it’s more of a logical thing.
“It’s a process you have to think about before you do something," he said. "It’s not where you walk into a casino or walk in a bar and stick your money in a machine and there you go.”
Because the bill is being rewritten, Kasper did not discuss the details of the bill with the judiciary committee. But they did allow testimony in support of and in opposition to sports betting.
Kasper gave the only testimony in support of the bill while several people gave testimony in opposition. Those opposed included North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani, North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott, and representatives from the Family Policy Alliance of North Dakota, the North Dakota Catholic Conference, the United Tribes Gaming Association and Spirit Lake Tribe Gaming Commission.
Kasper stated that the upcoming bill would likely include betting on college sports in addition to professional sports. Both Bresciani and Hagerott spoke against allowing gambling on college sports and urged that the bill allow betting only on professional sports.
“I believe deeply in the collegiate model of amateur athletics and that because of that purposeful focus, it complements a collegiate environment,” Bresciani said during the session. “That said, it goes without saying that the collegiate model is constantly under pressure from groups with self-serving interest in professionalizing college sports. That has never been the case more so than it is today. I’m concerned that legalized betting on college athletics would very much put the collegiate model further at risk.”
UTGA Executive Director Cynthia Monteau testified in opposition to HB1234, urging that gaming remain exclusive to Tribal casinos. She said Tribal casinos generate more than $300 million for the state economy and provide more than 3,000 full-time equivalent jobs.
While the UTGA is opposed to legalizing sports betting, no tribal casinos in the state currently offer sports betting.
“Gaming is, in most cases, our sole source of revenue for jobs and economic development,” Monteau said during the hearing. “HB1234 is an expansion of gaming outside of Tribal casinos, and we are adamantly opposed.”