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Our view: North Dakota’s pull tab loophole needed closing

Turns out, North Dakota law allows e-pull tab machines in bars, but they are finding their way into other establishments. It’s because of a loose definition of what a bar is, according to North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley.

Herald pull quote, 5/25/22
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The differences between South Dakota and North Dakota?

South Dakota has about 120,000 more residents, about 2 million more head of cattle and what seems to be an uncountable number of more places to gamble.

Down there, one can find some game of chance about anywhere. Who hasn’t stopped for gas in South Dakota and noticed video lottery machines beckoning nearby?

Now, in North Dakota, efforts are being made to limit gambling in places like gas stations and grocery stores. Last week, Forum News Service reported that state officials are taking steps to clarify state law to limit machines in such locations.

Turns out, North Dakota law allows e-pull tab machines in bars, but they are finding their way into other establishments. It’s because of a loose definition of what a bar is, according to North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley.

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So, on Thursday, May 19, the North Dakota Gaming Commission voted 3-2 to approve a new definition of a “bar.” According to the new wording, a bar is a place that sells alcoholic beverages, but that’s not to include “off-sale liquor stores, or gas stations, grocery or liquor stores.”

There is a small number of gas stations and retail stores that already have e-tab machines, and they’ll be allowed to keep theirs. Fair enough – after all, the idea is to crimp the growth of new machines in certain places that don’t seem to meet the definition of “bar.”

As Wrigley said last week: An "explosion of these machines would have occurred without this language being changed." And, as FNS reported, Wrigley said having tab machines in gas stations, convenience stores, liquor stores or grocery stores goes "well beyond the legislative expectations and intent with the existing law."

North Dakotans do enjoy their e-pull tab machines. The FNS report last week noted the state is on pace to spend approximately $1.8 billion on them this fiscal year – up from $1.3 billion last year.

That’s a lot of pull tabs, and more power to the folks who enjoy them. Gambling isn’t the issue – it’s a perfectly legal activity. It’s the expansion of it into places that it shouldn’t be that is concerning. A loophole has existed, Wrigley said, and it needs to be closed.

Lawmakers must be involved, and that’s the idea, Wrigley said. The Legislature should review the issue in next year’s session and clarify what, exactly, is a bar, and where the tabs can be sold.

"It was the right time to (clarify the law) now before any more horses run out of the barn and let the Legislature decide a year from now whether they want to open the door or keep the door shut," Wrigley said.

Agreed.

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And if the Legislature wants to expand gaming, we suppose that’s fine – although we have enjoyed the distinction of being different from our neighbor to the south, where gambling exists seemingly everywhere.

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