BISMARCK, ND (AP) – North Dakota voters would decide whether to allow college and professional sports gambling under a pending legislature resolution.
The resolution proposed by West Fargo Republican MP Michael Howe will be presented next month and has broad support from both parties, he said. It comes after two bills that would have allowed sports betting in the state were defeated two years ago in the Republican-led legislature in North Dakota.
However, the legislature would still be required to approve the resolution by an upward or downward vote. The residents could also put the matter to a vote themselves with an initiated measure. The North Dakota Constitution gives citizens the right to bypass the law and include a constitutional amendment directly in the vote.
Though lawmakers shot it down last session, “the general public would have an overwhelming support for sports betting,” Howe said.
The measure could appear on a ballot as early as next year, Howe said. If this were approved, the legislature would set rules for gambling operations at the next session.
About two dozen states now have legal gambling in sports after the US Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that federal law that banned it anywhere but Las Vegas and a few other jurisdictions was overturned.
Howe said the North Dakota bills, which were killed two years ago, were poorly written. Supporters argued that sports betting would generate revenue for charities and the state. Opponents said it would cause more gambling addiction problems and that no money was earmarked for treatment.
North Dakota residents have relaxed their attitudes towards gambling over the years. Voters decisively voted for a statewide lottery in 2002, and that and nonprofit gambling – pull tab tickets, bingo cards, blackjack, and other games – have grown into a multi-million dollar industry each year.
The North Dakotans turned down two lottery campaigns in the 1980s. In June 1996 a measure initiated to legalize a lottery and allow video game machines to be used in bars, restaurants and bingo halls was rejected. 69 percent of voters said no.
“It’s not as taboo as it used to be,” Howe said. “The general public has now accepted it. Many people are already doing this illegally on their cell phones. Why not have North Dakota give you a piece of this cake? Why not have it here and settle it here? “
GOP Governor Doug Burgum won’t stand in the way of any attempt to bring legal sports betting to North Dakota, but neither will he, a spokesman said.