AP NEWS

Testimony: Sports betting must have problem gambling fund

January 28, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The Legislature should be prepared to set aside money to treat problems that will result from legalizing sports betting in the state, lawmakers were told Monday.

North Dakota is one of many states attempting to capitalize on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision that lifts a federal ban on sports gambling. Lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow sports betting to generate revenue for the charitable gambling industry and the state.

Two Republican lawmakers, Reps. Jason Dockter of Bismarck and Thomas Beadle of Fargo, introduced separate legislation that would allow sports betting, hoping to generate revenue for the charitable gambling industry and the state.

But while most people can gamble without getting hooked, it becomes a “life-altering addiction” for others, said Lisa Vig of Gamblers Choice, a treatment program of Lutheran Social Services in Fargo.

Dockter’s bill would permit gambling on college and professional sports, while Beadle’s would allow only the latter. Neither bill has a provision to fund counseling for compulsive gamblers. Vig said she would support the legislation if that provision is included.

Legislatures in Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island already have legalized sports betting. And several states have pre-filed sports betting bills for early 2019, including Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia.

North Dakota residents have relaxed their attitudes on gambling over the years. Voters decisively approved a statewide lottery in 2002 after rejecting three lottery measures during the previous 12 years. Along with charitable gambling — pull-tab tickets, bingo cards, blackjack and other games — it’s become a quarter-billion dollar annual industry.

Sports betting would be considered charitable gambling under the legislation and would not require funds to support problem gambling. Randy Miller, director of the state lottery, said the lottery is required to set aside $320,000 annually for problem gambling, all of which goes to Vig’s group in Fargo for counselling.

The sum has risen from $200,000 annually since fiscal 2016, he said.

The attorney general’s office estimates sports betting would create more than $1.2 million in revenue over the next two years.

Mark Jorritsma, executive director of the Family Policy Alliance of North Dakota, said it is not “morally justifiable” to get revenue from someone who is addicted to gambling.

“Sports betting is bad social policy, it is bad economic policy and it is bad governmental policy,” Jorritsma told the House Judiciary Committee, which did not immediately take action on the legislation.

Gov. Doug Burgum has said he won’t stand in the way of the attempt to bring legal sports betting to North Dakota but he won’t advocate for it either, a spokesman said.

Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the first-term Republican governor “is open to looking at ways to potentially capitalize on the national change.”

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This version of the story corrects the amount of money set aside annually for problem gambling to $320,000.

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