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Kevin Smith

North Dakota House Passes Internet Poker Bil

17 February 2005

A legislative effort to legalize Internet poker in North Dakota has cleared its first hurdle.

The state's House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would set up a regulatory scheme for online poker. The bill cleared the House on a 49-43 vote and now moves on to the Senate for committee debate. It's the furthest any such bill has gotten in the United States.

"We only have one chance to be the first state in the nation that's going to regulate and license this industry. This is our moment."
- Rep. Jim Kasper

If passed in both chambers and signed into law, the legislation would not take effect unless North Dakota voters approve a constitutional amendment to allow state licensing of Internet poker sites.

Senate leadership will decide in the next few days which committee will get the bill; it went through the Judiciary Committee in the House.

Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, the bill's primary sponsor in the House, is assembling a group of industry leaders to testify on behalf of the bill in a committee hearing in mid March.

"I don't know nearly as much about this industry as those who are in it; they are the real experts," Kasper said. "I want to get as many of them here as possible to meet the governor and attorney general and get as many people in Bismarck interested in this concept as possible."

Kasper hopes to get the hearing scheduled for March 14 or 15, with the full Senate debating and voting on the bill two to five days later (assuming it passes the committee). Similar to the Nevada legislature, North Dakota's lawmakers are a part-time body, so bills that are passed generally move quickly through the process.

Kasper has already received positive feedback from leading Internet poker operators.

"They have told me they need three main things, and we have all of them," he said. "They have said they want a fair tax climate, and the bill would create that. They want a high level of broadband connectivity, and we are surprisingly one of the most wired states in the country. And they want fair and honest regulation and a government they can trust, which clearly we can provide more than an offshore location."

Some of Kasper's colleagues are nevertheless skeptical as to whether sites would come to the state when they have the option of staying offshore in a tax-free environment. Rep. Joyce Kingsbury, R-Grafton, pointed to the fact that operators and tax-free jurisdictions can offer North Dakota consumers better prices.

"North Dakota needs a solid and reliable source of revenue, not a pie-in-the-sky effort," Kingsbury said. "When you can play offshore and not pay taxes at this time, why play through North Dakota and be taxed?"

Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, questioned whether regulated online poker would really benefit the state.

"I'm not so sure this is economic development," Klemin said. "We were told . . . that, well, what we'll be seeing here is a computer server, about the size of four-by-four feet. To me, that's not the creation of a whole lot of jobs. They can operate those computer servers from anywhere in the world."

Klemin also said the matter should go to the voters first, and then the legislature.

"In the lottery bill, it was 'Amend the constitution first, and then adopt the law and the rules,'" he said. "Here, we're doing it exactly the opposite."

The Man, the Mission and the Motive

Jim Kasper, a self-proclaimed poker player (both offline and online), said the idea for the bill sprung out of his love for the game.

"I started playing as a little boy, when I was five or six years old, and my uncles and dad were working on the construction of the Garrison Dam," he said. "I hadn't played for about 25 years, and then I saw Chris Moneymaker win the World Series of Poker and visited a casino to play.

"I picked up a Card Player magazine and got a subscription and starting reading about the industry wanting regulation in the U.S. The more I thought about it, I realized that North Dakota could be the one to take the lead on this. We only have one chance to be the first state in the nation that's going to regulate and license this industry. This is our moment."

North Dakota House Passes Internet Poker Bil is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith