North Dakota Sports Betting and Poker Updates

Featured in this article:

  • Amendments Would Legalize Sports Betting and Online Poker
  • A Sports Wagering Commission Would License Operators
  • Poker Players Could Challenge Out-of-State Opponents

The rural, conservative state of North Dakota is inching closer to allowing its residents more sports betting and poker options. This past week saw representatives in the state House pass two bills advancing gambling options. House Concurrent Resolutions 3032 and 3012 would authorize constitutional amendments on the November 2022 ballot. Allowing voters to decide whether to expand regulated gaming is popular across the country. However, North Dakota legislators appear to already have a plan in place for once voters approve the amendments.

Why Delay North Dakota Sports Betting and Poker Until 2022?

Because legislators want voters to decide the issue, legalization of sports betting and online poker will have to wait. Due to North Dakota’s procedural rules, both chambers of the legislature must agree to place issues on a statewide ballot. Expanding sports betting is extremely popular. The House passed HCR 3032 by a vote of 70-24.

Meanwhile, HCR 3012, authorizing an amendment for online poker, passed 54-40. Both bills clearly enjoy widespread support. So, why would North Dakota’s House not legalize more gambling itself? The constitutional amendment process offers legislators political cover.

Generally, it is always popular to ‘let the voters choose.’ Especially instead of taking a stand and inviting the wrath of people opposed to expanded offerings. In North Dakota, many citizens believe gambling is a vice. These folks would seek retribution against officeholders who implemented sports betting without popular consent.

How Would North Dakota Gambling Expansion Work?

Currently, North Dakota offers tribal casinos and extremely limited ‘charitable’ casinos. The state’s five federally recognized indigenous tribes operate casinos through a compact with the state government. If sports betting and online poker were to be regulated, North Dakota would need to renegotiate the compact.

As a part of its consideration of gambling bills, the House voted down a measure regarding the tribal compact. This bill would have limited any commercial expansion of gaming. House Bill 1448 would have authorized only the tribes to offer sports betting and online poker. Its defeat means that if voters approve the constitutional amendments the state itself would license and regulate operators.

There Are Plans in Place if North Dakota Voters Approve

Unlike other states asking its voters to approve expanded gambling options, North Dakota has an implementation plan in place. House Bill 1234 sets some rules and limitations for legalized sports betting. For instance, North Dakota would create a Sports Wagering Commission under the attorney general. This five-member board would be responsible for licensing operators and day-to-day monitoring. It would be separate from the state lottery.

Additionally, HB 1234 restricts the possible licenses to two retail sportsbooks and three mobile operators. As currently written, the bill would also only allow betting on professional sports.

North Dakota Would Join a Multi-State Poker Agreement

As for online poker, HCR 3012 was less restrictive. In fact, it explicitly calls for North Dakota to join a multi-state poker agreement. Because North Dakota is such a small state, poker players would have limited options without one. If the pool of players was limited to only North Dakotans, it is unlikely any operators would even offer poker in the state. This is a problem West Virginia is currently experiencing.

“By allowing the people to vote on it, we put this to rest once and for all.”

A multi-state poker agreement allows residents to play against people in other states. With expanded numbers, operators can offer bigger guaranteed prizes and larger tournaments. More players also leads to higher tax revenues. Currently, Nevada, New Jersey, Michigan, and Delaware take advantage of pooling their online poker players.

Representative Rick Beckeron on North Dakota House floor

R-Rick Becker on the North Dakota House Floor in the state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D.

What’s Next for Sports Betting and Online Poker?

Now that the North Dakota House has passed its gambling bills, attention turns to the state Senate. Though conservative opposition remains, the possibility of new revenue is a strong incentive. Look for senators to allow the constitutional amendments to go forward. As state Representative Rick Becker (R-Bismarck) said, “By allowing the people to vote on it, we put this to rest once and for all.”

Even if the Senate approves, the amendments will not be voted on for over a year and a half. Then, there will be a delay as the Sports Wagering Commission is created and implementation rules are debated.

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