Two North Dakota lawmakers are preparing to file bills that would legalize sports betting in a state that only allows gaming through charitable organizations. The lawmakers, Representative Thomas Beadle (R-District 27) and Representative Jason Docktor (R-District 7) have plans for similar bills, and depending on how Beadle’s bill is received, Docktor may choose instead to offer legislation that would ultimately change the state constitution to allow commercial sports betting.
At the moment, both are drafting bills that would allow for sports betting through one of the state’s many charitable organization. The bills would allow sports betting on professional and collegiate sports (including North Dakota teams), and would limit sports betting to in-person via kiosks or windows primarily at bars and restaurants throughout the state.
Neither will address mobile sports in their bills, as both believe they have the best chance of getting sports betting legalized with as few “frills” as possible. The bill will not address fees or taxes, which Docktor said could be handled through a separate bill or by the state attorney general’s office.
North Dakota only allows charitable or tribal gaming
In North Dakota, gaming is currently only allowed through charitable organizations or on tribal land. According to Docktor, charitable organizations can’t offer the full complement of Las Vegas-style games. He envisions sports betting at licensed charitable gaming sites around North Dakota, but not, for example at a kiosk at the corner store.
“What I was told is that (the charitable organizations) can only do about 20 percent of the games allowed in Las Vegas,” Docktor said. “How I envision it would be a Vikings-Packers bet or a bet on college basketball, but you couldn’t do those unique bets like in-game wagering.”
As Docktor understands the process, if sports betting is made legal for charitable organizations, the attorney general’s office would then develop regulations, including, potentially, setting the tax rate and application fees.
According to the North Dakota attorney general’s website, the AG’s gaming division manages both charitable gaming and tribal pacts. The North Dakota Lottery manages only the state lottery. Tribal casinos do not currently pay taxes to the state, though they do cover regulatory fees. North Dakota’s gaming tax is graduated and starts at five percent for adjusted gross proceeds of $200,000 or less and rises to as much as 20 percent for adjusted gross proceeds of more than $600,000.
Charitable organizations are non-profit groups, and many offer gaming as a way to pay for their “charity,” which can benefit anything from cystic fibrosis to purchasing ambulances to funding youth hockey. The groups have a strong lobby in North Dakota and often work together at the state capital. Essentially, the groups raise their own funds for projects, rather than going to the state legislature to ask for money. There are about 20 charitable casinos and six tribal casinos in the state.
North Dakota legislature historically “reluctant” on gaming expansion
Beadle has also crafted a bill that would legalize sports betting in the charitable organization framework, but his would not allow for betting on college sports. He said that’s not because he’s opposed to it, but rather that gaming expansion in North Dakota is tricky business and he figured that sticking to professional sports would make a bill easier to pass.
“Every time there is an expansion of gaming, there can be an issue,” he said. “There is some reluctance on gaming expansion … but I don’t have a problem (with betting on college sports), it’s mostly just about ease of dissension.”
It’s possible that Beadle will file after Docktor, as they are both after the same goal and plan to work together to legalize sports betting. Beadle told Sports Handle that if Docktor’s bill would legalize sports betting through charitable gaming, he might want to “take two different cracks at it” by filing a bill that would change the state constitution to allow commercial gaming.
If Beadle goes this route, the state legislature could approve the change, but by law, it would have to go on the ballot for a vote. The soonest that could happen is 2020, so Beadle would likely only go this route if it appears another bill would legalize sports betting through charitable gaming, as that could happen sooner. The idea is to run the two types of legislation on parallel tracks, thereby legalizing under the umbrella of charity organizations later this year, with the hope of amending the constitution in the future.
Mobile sports betting won’t be legal without constitutional amendment
The key reason for a constitutional change is mobile.
“What I’m toying with is running a constitutional amendment that would add sports betting along with the lottery, in particular, because that would allow for more of the online (piece),” Beadle said. “Sports betting has much more of a prevalence online than other games, except maybe poker. There are also some people interested in trying a Deadwood, South Dakota model. So we’d be trying to do a Deadwood carve-out.”
In South Dakota, commercial gaming is only legal within the limits of Deadwood and at tribal casinos, though the video lottery is legal throughout the state.
However Docktor and Beadle go at sports betting, their bills will get hearings during the current legislative session, which began on Jan. 3 in Bismark. Unlike in other states, every bill gets to the committee floor for a vote. “You can’t get rid of a bill in committee,” Beadle said.
The session lasts 80 days and any law that is passed will become effective on Aug. 1, 2019.