BISMARCK - North Dakota lawmakers are preparing legislation to open up sports betting after a major U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year.
Reps. Thomas Beadle of Fargo and Jason Dockter of Bismarck, both Republicans, said they are crafting separate bills to allow charities to conduct sports betting ahead of next year’s legislative session. The effort comes months after the nation's highest court opened the door to sports wagers across the country.
Left unclear, however, is whether betting on collegiate sporting events would be allowed under any system North Dakota lawmakers will consider. Beadle said his bill only permits gambling on professional sports, while Dockter said his doesn't include such restrictions.
Beadle said North Dakota’s lack of professional sports means there’s no incentive to tamper with those games.
“Then we can avoid the concerns that might come out of (North Dakota State University or the University of North Dakota),” he said, though he would be open to a "friendly amendment" on collegiate sports. He was unsure whether he and Dockter would combine efforts when lawmakers reconvene at the Capitol Jan. 3.
North Dakota higher education leaders offered little opinion on whether the state should allow betting on their sports. UND Athletics Director Bill Chaves said student-athletes would still be required to follow NCAA prohibitions on collegiate sports gambling even if state law allows it, likening it to marijuana legalization in the state of Washington, where he previously worked.
“We still have to play by the association rules from the NCAA," he said. "It's just increased awareness, increased education for our student-athletes."
The NCAA "opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering, which has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the welfare of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community," according to its website.
State Board of Higher Education Chairman Don Morton, a former college football coach, said he would need to know more about the proposal before commenting on it. An NDSU athletics spokesman didn’t have any comment on the subject.
It appears North Dakota tribes are already able to offer sports gambling, however, since compacts reached with all five of them in 2013 allow for "sports book except as prohibited by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act," the federal law the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in May. The law prevented all but four states from authorizing sports betting, an industry group said.
Republican Gov. Doug Burgum's spokesman Mike Nowatzki reiterated the governor's position that he's "still open to looking at ways to potentially capitalize on the national change to mutually benefit the state and tribes."
The North Dakota constitution bans gambling except for charitable gaming and the multi-state lottery, and state law includes prohibitions on sports gambling but does allow betting on horse racing. But charitable organizations may offer sports pools, which is comprised of "wagers paid by players for a line or square that will determine which player wins," according to the attorney general's office.
Licensed gaming organizations grossed more than $547 million before prizes and other expenses during the 2015-17 biennium, which raised more than $42 million for charitable uses and $6.5 million in gaming taxes, according to the attorney general's office.
In Minnesota, GOP state Sen. Roger Chamberlain plans to introduce a sports betting bill next year.
"We'd like to open it up to as many people as possible," the Senate Taxes Committee chairman said. "That's really the only way it's going to work really well in this state, is if you broaden it out."