A Divided North Dakota Senate Votes Down Sports Betting

North Dakota

  • A conservative state, North Dakota legislators had differences of opinion moving ahead
  • Several previous votes among legislators for gambling have met resistance & debate
  • Sports wagering operating in North Dakota does not look likely now until at least 2025

North Dakota fought the good fight but, in the end, it defied the trend of most other US states in passing a bill for legalized sports wagering. At least for the foreseeable future.

The upper chamber of the Senate voted down House Resolution by only one single vote on Monday. The measure narrowly failed last Friday, but an absent senator was able to revive the bill before it met the end. In a recent positive measure in February, the House overwhelmingly approved legislation to move forward.

Republican senators narrowly supported the bill 20-19 with the one absent member. However, the Senate’s seven Democrats voted 5-2 against the sports betting proposal.

Had the Senate passed the resolution, residents of North Dakota would have gained the opportunity to see a question regarding legalizing sports wagering on the upcoming November 2022 ballot. Currently, 21 US states plus Washington DC are in operation for sports betting with several pending legislation.

Difference of Opinions

Sen. Scott Meyer(R) Grand Forks said he supported the measure because it allowed North Dakota to regulate and tax an industry that has been already operating illegally for some time in the state.

Sen. Ray Holmberg(R) also from Grand Forks made note that lawmakers often refused to allow participation in a multi-state lottery twenty years ago. Voters, therefore, took the matter upon themselves and passed an initiated ballot measure. Holmberg said the North Dakota legislature should put the question of sports wagering to the people in the state, so history does not repeat itself.

The vote itself was a signature of how divided, confused, and generally “non-united” the group was in carrying the referendum further to a potential conclusion.

Republican Sen. Kyle Davison supported the second vote after not voting the first time. GOP Senators Jay Elkin and Michael Wobbema changed their vote from “no” to “yes” during the second vote. Conversely, fellow Republican Sen. Dave Oehkle and Democratic Minority Leader Joan Heckaman both switched the other way from “yes” to “no” on the second attempt.

There were strong opponents of the bill including West Fargo Republican Sen. David Clemens, who said the state should not provide another vice to residents already struggling with addiction issues. He also noted that if voters are in favor of sports betting being legalized, they should pass a ballot measure without the North Dakota legislature hand-delivering them a special referendum.

Sports betting has faced opposition from religious groups as well among North Dakota’s five gaming tribes, which earlier this year saw their own hopes of operating sports betting dashed when the House voted down a separate bill.

The Outcome

Losing this referendum means North Dakota voters cannot vote on a potential opportunity for sports wagering until the November 2024 elections. Should they vote “yes’ that would dictate sports betting to operate sometime in 2025 at the earliest? Within the current 2021 proposal were plans allowing commercial operators to open up to three online and allow for two retail sportsbooks within the state.

Along with the House voting down the bill for Native American tribes, lawmakers also rejected historic horse racing legislation earlier in the session. A bill for online poker remains alive but faces long odds, especially in light of the sports wagering defeat.

It still is somewhat surprising that North Dakota defeated the bill, after learning very recently that smaller populated nearby states including South Dakota and Wyoming have passed legislation to begin legalized sports wagering in the near future.

Many North Dakota religious and family groups have spoken out against online sports wagering and its ties to compulsive gambling. University of North Dakota President Mark Hagerott testified against state colleges being included in wagering provisions, which were since taken out of the next version’s bill.

As they have tried in other US states, sports wagering industry leader DraftKings Sportsbook testified in favor of the bills for North Dakota to no avail. While taking a neutral position, the American Gaming Association (AGA) offered its support to regulate sports betting in North Dakota.

It is still possible that a North Dakota citizen-backed constitutional amendment force could be its best hope to drive lawmakers’ interest before they return for their next session in 2023. That would take a collection of at least 4% of census-counted residents or 26,000 people. But the most likely scenario is a most-certain serious effort for sports wagering in 2024.

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Larry Gibbs

Expert on Sports Betting Industry

Larry Gibbs is both a seasoned journalist and a respected online gaming industry consultant. His wry commentary & sharp analysis have appeared in numerous top gaming and sports wagering publications. He has also served as Vice President of US Gaming Services, a marketing research organization with 15 years of experience in US online wagering. He has spoken at noted gaming industry conferences including G2E, GiGSE, and NCLGS.

Email: [email protected]