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ND House committee again says no to casino idea

House Majority Leader Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo. Tom Stromme /Bismarck Tribune file photo

BISMARCK—A North Dakota House committee again gave an unfavorable recommendation to controversial casino legislation Monday, March 20, but not before lawmakers amended the resolution to allow for privately owned casinos.

The House Judiciary Committee gave House Concurrent Resolution 3033 a "do not pass" recommendation in an 11-4 vote. As introduced, it would ask voters whether to amend the state Constitution to allow up to six state-owned casinos away from Native American reservations and the state's larger cities.

But the committee approved an amendment submitted by House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the resolution's primary sponsor, that would allow for up to six privately owned casinos that couldn't be built within 40 miles of a reservation. The amended resolution doesn't include any other location restrictions, but it would require the Legislature to establish licensing regulations, fees and taxation rates for casinos and related operations.

It would also create a Casino Gaming Commission to regulate the industry.

The committee rejected the same amendment last week.

"I believe these proposed amendments make it a better bill regardless of what happens," said Rep. Andrew Maragos, R-Minot, who has previously argued the casino question will make it to the ballot through an initiated measure if legislators don't act.

If approved by the Legislature, the proposed constitutional amendment would go before voters in the 2018 general election.

Monday's actions marked another turn in the resolution's short but eventful life. Introduced Feb. 21, but unseen by the public until more than a week later, it faced opposition during a hearing last week from a tribal chairman and charitable gaming officials who worried their revenues would drop.

The House Judiciary Committee debated the resolution and two proposed amendments two days later, ultimately rejecting both changes and giving the bill a "do not pass" recommendation. It was re-referred to the committee Thursday, setting up Monday's discussion.

House lawmakers agreed three times this month to temporarily extend the deadline for resolutions that contain a constitutional amendment. That House rule, as originally written, says those resolutions must be reported back to the House no later than the 40th legislative day, which was March 6.

The most recent amendment to that rule changes the deadline to the 50th legislative day, which was Monday.

But the resolution would face another procedural hurdle even if it passes the House. A legislative joint rule says a resolution that has passed one chamber may not be sent to the other house for concurrence after the 43rd legislative day, which was March 9.

A motion to suspend that rule in order to accept an unrelated House resolution failed in the Senate Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said he was unsure whether the chamber will support the casino concept.

"It's pretty quiet," he said. "Nobody's really talking about it."

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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