North Dakotans who wish to gamble can do so in establishments that offer charitable gaming. They purchase pull tabs or buy lottery tickets – such as Powerball – by the hundreds. They can visit one of numerous American Indian casinos. These are legal options.
Yet they cannot legally bet on a sports event. At least not yet.
Ten states have now legalized sports betting and an 11th, Iowa, will legalize it later this week. In that state, licensed casinos will pay a $45,000 license fee with a $10,000 annual renewal. After that, there will be a 6.75 percent tax imposed on the house’s share of revenues once bets are settled. Expectations in Iowa are for sports wagering to raise between $29 million and $58 million in revenue, with the state collecting up to $3.9 million annually in taxes.
It's a new revenue stream for states, and many are lining up to take advantage. North Dakota, meanwhile, is not. The issue came before the Legislature earlier this year; after passage in the House, the Senate killed the proposal, 38-7.
Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that prohibits sports betting in states that didn’t already have it established in law. Since then, states have been able to decide on their own whether to allow it.
It isn’t necessarily an immediate windfall, as revenue has fallen well short of predictions in some states. The Associated Press reported this spring that West Virginia brought in just a quarter of its projected sports gambling taxes. In Mississippi and Pennsylvania, collections amount to only half of estimates.
But it is a revenue stream, nonetheless, and we see sports betting as an inevitability, especially in states like the Dakotas and Minnesota, where gambling options already abound and where stigmas about gambling are eroding with each new gambling option that’s unveiled.
We see gambling as a pastime, and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with, say, buying a Powerball ticket or visiting an American Indian casino. We realize pathological gamblers exist, and we know legalizing sports betting will only raise temptation for those who struggle with gambling addiction.
But our bet – and yes, pun is intended – is that North Dakota will eventually legalize sports betting. It will come in typical Midwestern political fashion – lawmakers will toy with the notion for a session or two, they will acclimate voters to the idea, they will wait for other states to pass it and then they finally will give approval.
We aren’t necessarily pro-gambling. We are for laws that legalize the obvious will of the people. North Dakotans already are gambling legally, and they have numerous ways to do it. Americans have been illegally betting on sports events for more than a century, and states should just as well take advantage of it.
It would be best to come at it with a relatively high tax that makes it worthwhile for the state, to earmark the proceeds for programs that would be for public good, and then to let the people do what so many of them already are doing -- legally and illegally.