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Kevin Smith

Not Dead Yet - ND Legislator Holds out Hope for Defeated Poker Bil

22 March 2005

Despite an overwhelming defeat in the Senate, the main sponsor of a House bill to regulate and license online poker rooms in North Dakota is hopeful his measure can still become law.

The full Senate vote was expected to come later in the week, but the bill was brought before the full Senate on Monday and was roundly defeated 44-3. Its main sponsor, Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, is still optimistic that the legislature can push through his companion House bill, which would send the issue to the voters as a proposed amendment to the state's constitution. That bill passed in the House in February by a 49-43 vote.

"It isn't dead yet," Kasper said. "There is a lot of support for the idea of putting the issue to a vote of the people."

Even if that happens, the legislature would have to additionally pass a bill outlining regulations for the industry before betting Internet poker operations could be allowed. And if such an enabling bill isn't in place by the end of the legislature's current session (which could come as early as April or as late as June), the measure would have to wait until at least January 2007, when the legislature reconvenes. State constitutional amendments will go before voters in the June 2006 general election.

Kasper was hoping to lobby senators for support in anticipation of a vote on Wednesday or Thursday, but the strategy was squelched by the earlier-than-expected full Senate vote.

Sen. Jack Traynor, R-Devils Lake, one of three senators to back the bill, was disappointed that the Senate as a whole wouldn't want to leave the decision in the hands of the people.

"It strikes me that we should let the people of the state decide if they want this," Traynor said. "The promoters have told us it could amount . . . to some significant economic activity in our communities."

Adding to Kasper's surprise was that amendments (one allowing for a defense fund to finance a potential court battle with the U.S. Department of Justice if they challenged the legality of the bill and another creating an operational fund to help the state offset the initial cost of regulating the industry) were passed in the Senate.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem estimated it would cost at least $1 million over two years to regulate the industry, so to keep the bill from having a fiscal note, an amendment was added to have the industry fund those costs.

Ultimately, the bill couldn't overcome the threat of a challenge from the federal Department of Justice and a feeling among senators that regulated Internet gambling would bring more harm than good.

Stenehjem and the state's governor, John Hoeven, declined to publicly endorse the legislation, even after the amendments were added to the bill upon Stenehjem's request.

Also working against the bill was the dark cloud hovering above the state following the recent Racing Services Inc. scandal in which the company's owner was convicted for running an illegal off-track betting service out of Fargo.

"Gambling seems to lead to corruption," Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, pointed out in reference to the RSI case. "Once you've lost the money that you wagered, if you don't have it to lose, what's the next thing you do? You have to try to get it back some way. A lot of times, it leads to very bad decisions."

Kasper said he and his supporters will continue to lobby in the Senate for a constitutional amendment bill. He said a vote could come as early as this week, but will more than likely come next week.

Not Dead Yet - ND Legislator Holds out Hope for Defeated Poker Bil is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith