North Dakota Sports Betting Closer than Ever to Reality

The legal sports betting effort in North Dakota scored a last-minute victory last week after the House of Representatives failed to pass the state’s latest sports betting bill and then reversed its own decision just hours later.

A vote held last Wednesday morning on HB 1254 initially appeared to doom the bill, which seeks to legalize in-person sports betting in North Dakota. However, the bill got a second chance after Representative Keith Kempenich demanded a redo after missing the first vote.

Rep. Kempenich quickly rallied additional support for the bill and managed to get it passed Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 52-38. HB 1254 now heads to the Senate, which reconvened today.

A second bill, HB 1295, was also put to a vote last week and failed to pass. This one was similar to HB 1254 but would have prohibited wagering on college sports. HB 1295 was shot down by a vote of 62-30.

HB 1254 in a Nutshell

HB 1254 seeks to legalize wagering on the outcome of professional and collegiate events. By regulating the market, lawmakers hope the money that citizens are already spending on unregulated sports betting can instead be funneled through legal sportsbook to fund charitable causes and state coffers.

Should the bill become law, sports betting will be made available through charitable organizations or tribal gaming establishments. Mobile sports betting is not on the menu at this time.

Currently, North Dakota has five tribal casinos and no commercial casinos across the state. A number of charitable organizations also run gambling facilities near the main metropolitan areas.

The state Constitution bans all other forms of gambling aside from the lottery, charitable gaming and horse racing betting. North Dakota also serves as a major licensing hub for racing betting websites.

The main sponsor of HB 1254, Bismarck Rep. Jason Docktor (R) told The Grand Forks Herald that HB 1254 will allow betting kiosks at North Dakota establishments. He promised that they would not be turned into what he termed “Las Vegas-style venues”.

“I will admit it is an expansion for gaming,” he said. “But also, it’s already here.”

Sports Betting Bill is Part of Gambling Expansion

With changes in the sports betting landscape nationwide, North Dakota seems to heading in the direction of change. At the beginning of the month, lawmakers agreed to expand gambling options and voted to include historic horse racing machines in the mix. The tight 48-43 vote on House Bill 1443 came after legislators agreed that North Dakota’s horse racing industry is in dire need of extra revenue.

The bill:

  • Allows players to use electronic devices at simulcast facilities to place their bets on horse races that have already taken place.
  • Players will have access to “past performance information” but the identifying information about the actual race will be hidden.
  • Betting terminals will display a “recording or digital simulation or recreation of a portion of the race”, according to the wording of the bill.
  • A portion of the wagers will go towards supporting horse breeders and owners, upgrading racetracks, promoting the North Dakota horse racing industry and preventing and treating gambling addiction.

The main sponsor of the bill, Rep. Craig Headland (R-Montpelier) calmed concerns expressed that the new bill would create more gamblers or decrease available funds for other charities.

“We’re talking about a limited number of locations statewide that are geared toward horse racing enthusiasts,” he is quoted in The Grand Forks Herald.

The North Dakota Racing Commission welcomed the vote and expressed hoped that HB 1443 will pass the Senate floor. Historical horse racing machines have prompted mixed reactions in other states, namely because some say they’re basically just slot machines in everything but name. A measure to allow such games in Idaho, for example, failed to earn the approval of voters last year.

What’s Next for the North Dakota Sports Betting Bill?

When the Senate reconvenes this week, it will be taking up several gambling expansion proposals, including HB 1443 and the more recent HB 1254. The Senate will be looking at the bill next and if it passes there, will go to the Governor’s desk.

Governor Doug Burgum has said fairly recently that he no plans to oppose or push for gambling. When asked about sports betting legislation last year, a spokesman for the governor said Burgum “is open to looking at ways to potentially capitalize on the national change.”

Based on that, it seems likely Governor Burgum will sign off on the bill and pass it into law if it reaches his desk.