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Resolution: Voters should decide sports betting

January 25, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota voters would decide whether to allow gambling on college and professional sports, according to a resolution pending in the Legislature.

The resolution, proposed by West Fargo Republican Rep. Michael Howe, will be introduced next month and has wide bipartisan support, he said. It comes after a pair of bills that would have allowed sports betting in the state were defeated two years ago in North Dakota’s Republican-led Legislature.

The Legislature, however, would still be required to endorse the resolution by an up or down vote. Residents also could put the matter to a vote themselves with an initiated measure. North Dakota’s Constitution gives citizens the right to bypass the Legislature and put a constitutional amendment directly on the ballot.

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Though lawmakers shot it down last session, “the general public would have overwhelming support for sports betting,” Howe said.

The measure could appear on a ballot as early as next year, Howe said. If approved, lawmakers would then craft rules for gambling operations the following session.

About two dozen states now have legal sports gambling following a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a federal law that had banned it everywhere but Las Vegas and a few other jurisdictions.

Howe said the North Dakota bills that were killed two years ago were poorly written. Backers argued sports betting would generate revenue for charities and the state. Opponents said it would cause more gambling addiction problems, and that there was no money earmarked for treatment.

North Dakota residents have relaxed their attitudes on gambling over the years. Voters decisively approved a statewide lottery in 2002, and that and charitable gambling — pull-tab tickets, bingo cards, blackjack and other games — have become a multimillion-dollar annual industry.

North Dakotans rejected two lottery measures in the 1980s. In June 1996, an initiated measure to make a lottery legal, and allow video gambling machines in bars, restaurants and bingo halls, was defeated, with 69 percent of the voters saying no.

“It’s not as taboo as it once was,” Howe said. “The general public has embraced it now. A lot of people are already doing it on their phone illegally. Why not let North Dakota have a piece of that pie? Why not have it here and regulate it here?”

GOP Gov. Doug Burgum 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 has said.