North Dakota: House discusses statewide mobile sports betting legalization through 2024 referendum

Amid efforts to legalize sports betting in North Dakota, and expand the activity beyond the tribal casinos where it is currently only allowed, a House panel heard arguments Monday over a measure to let voters decide the issue next year. 

Republican Representative Greg Stemen of Fargo noted to the Judiciary Committee that the passage of the resolution would not legalize sports betting. Instead, it would allow the voters of North Dakota to determine whether they want to legalize the market when they vote in the November 2024 general election

A change to the state constitution is required to legalize the activity. If passed, voters would decide whether to authorize that change. Then, in 2025, lawmakers could decide how exactly to authorize, license and regulate sports betting in the state, reports Associated Press.

Even though the committee recommended against passage, the resolution will get a floor vote later anyway. Stemen said thousands of people in the jurisdiction already participate in illegal sports betting and, through its legalization, the state could generate millions of dollars in tax revenue. 

Jacob Thomsen, a policy analyst with North Dakota Family Alliance Legislative Action, testified against the resolution saying the legalization of sports betting would worsen gambling problems and addictions among North Dakotans in exchange for a relatively small increase in state revenue. “It’s not morally justifiable,” he said. 

Mark Hagerott, chancellor of the North Dakota University System, also testified against the resolution, as it does not specify whether people will be able to place bets on college sports. “It potentially undermines the integrity of the game and renders unpaid athletes vulnerable to money flowing through their respective games and contingent on their performance,” he pointed out. 

In contrast, Pat Gibbs, national public policy counsel for the Sports Betting Alliance, said these concerns could be ironed out later by future lawmakers as the resolution “simply starts the conversation.”

“To maximize state revenue, enhance user convenience, and best attack illegal offshore sports betting websites that currently operate in North Dakota, the legislature should authorize and regulate competitive statewide mobile sports betting,” Gibbs stated, as reported by the Associated Press

Republican Rep. Lawrence Klemin, of Bismarck, chairman of the committee, said lawmakers will amend the resolution so it only allows betting on professional sports. He said that would “take care of the concern” about student-athletes, since they are not professionals.

Governor Doug Burgum

Republican Governor Doug Burgum signed agreements last year with North Dakota’s American Indian tribes that lower the legal gambling age from 21 to 19 at tribal-owned casinos, among other measures. The tribal-state agreements also allow online sports betting on mobile devices within reservation boundaries, but not outside of them.

The state’s five tribes had asked for exclusive rights to host internet gambling and sports betting outside the reservations, but Burgum rejected it because sports betting is not legal statewide.

In an official statement, the Governor said: “While we understand and appreciate the desire by some of the tribes to extend online gaming beyond their reservation boundaries, a clear legal path does not exist for the governor to grant such a broad expansion of gaming.”