GRAND FORKS — It’s a safe bet most North Dakotans have wagered on a sporting event, whether online, with a friend or in an office pool. A growing number of people also play poker online.
North Dakota lawmakers, however, failed to recognize the blatantly obvious (sports betting) and the growing trend (online poker) when they voted against proposals that could lead to legalizing both.
The latest was online poker. Tuesday, March 30, the Senate unanimously voted to kill a resolution that would have put the legalization of online poker on a statewide ballot in 2022. It came after the House last month approved the idea.
Also, the Senate voted against a resolution that would have let voters decide on legalizing sports betting in North Dakota. That measure also breezed through the House before it met its end in the Senate.
Failing to put these issues before the people is a short-sighted and paternalistic approach to lawmaking.
Interestingly, we find gambling troubling. According to numbers compiled by a group called the North American Foundation for Gambling Addiction Help, approximately 10 million people in the U.S. are addicted to gambling. A report published on the website run by Recovery Village notes that approximately half of compulsive gamblers commit crimes, usually related to obtaining money for gambling or to pay gambling debt.
Yet here’s the problem with the Legislature’s thinking: North Dakota already has all sorts of legal forms of gambling, casinos, lottery tickets, pull tabs and charitable games of chance among them. Add to that other forms of gaming that are technically illegal but still exist, including — yes — online poker and sports betting.
Legalized sports betting has taken off since a 2018 court decision that allows any state to legalize it if they choose. Now, at least 20 states allow sports betting and another six appear headed in that direction.
Why join the trend? Because if it’s happening already, North Dakota might just as well jump in and benefit from the dollars that will come with its ability to tax the bets.
In a report by North Dakota Newspaper Association reporter Dylan Sherman, state Rep. Michael Howe said the state is missing out on potentially millions of dollars in revenue.
“Tens of thousands of North Dakotans are sports wagering, albeit illegally,” he said. “It is estimated that North Dakota would bring in $7.2 million per biennium in tax revenue from sports wagering.”
That’s not going to solve any financial shortfalls in the state, but it’s money that remains uncollected without a change in laws.
Although gambling can be dangerously addictive it is, for most adults, a pastime and not an obsession.
In 2019, we wrote that “North Dakota will eventually legalize sports betting. It will come in typical Midwestern political fashion — lawmakers will toy with the notion for a session or two, they will acclimate voters to the idea, they will wait for other states to pass it and then they finally will give approval.”
Just make it happen already. Stop delaying the inevitable.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Grand Forks Herald.