North Dakota Casino Expansion Bill Shot Back Down the Pipeline

Posted on: March 24, 2017, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: March 24, 2017, 12:06h.

The North Dakota casino expansion bill introduced by House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R) has been rejected by the heavily controlled Republican chamber.

North Dakota casino Al Carlson
State lawmaker Al Carlson’s push to allow commercial North Dakota casinos to be built has failed. (Image: WDAY 970 Radio)

Carlson’s bill sought to more than double the number of brick-and-mortar casinos in the Roughrider State, but the legislation garnered little support even among his own party. The bill was strongly defeated by a vote of 63-28.

Carlson’s resolution would have asked North Dakota voters next November whether they support the expansion of gambling and allowing six land-based commercial casinos to be developed. The state currently has tribal casinos, along with charitable gaming and pari-mutuel wagering.

The longtime lawmaker who has served the 41st District since 1993, which includes Fargo, shrugged off the results and said he expected the tally.

Of the 94 seats in North Dakota’s House of Representatives, Carlson’s GOP controls 81. The majority leader said he “didn’t go around breaking arms” trying to obtain support from his legislative colleagues.

Payback No Answer

Carlson’s measure, if it would have been passed and approved by voters, would have allowed commercial casinos to be built at least 40 miles away from sovereign reservations.

The ballot question was seen by some as payback by Carlson to the Native American community for opposing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Protests from the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, along with hundreds of outsiders who joined the cause, have cost the state millions of dollars due to law enforcement and cleanup costs.

It’s also cost the Native American groups. Revenues have been greatly impacted at tribal casinos in recent months, as protests and road closures have kept would-be resort patrons away.

If commercial operators would have been allowed to build North Dakota casinos, the state would have theoretically violated its compact with the tribes, and therefore would have allowed the Indian casinos to stop sending tax payments to Bismarck. Tribal casinos currently direct between five and 5.5 percent of their net win on Class III games to the state.

Concerns Ongoing

While the House vote is a victory for the tribes, the gambling expansion issue is certainly not over. Last week, the North Dakota Senate passed a bill that would allow up to 10 locations to house “historic” or “instant horse racing” machines.

The games would allow bar patrons to place pari-mutuel wagers on races that have already been run. Video footage of thousands of races would be stored on the machines, with the horses, dates, and location of the race scrambled to conceal the results before the footage is played back.

Since the machines would accept pari-mutuel bets, revenue would almost entirely go to the racing industry. Charitable gaming advocates say that would cut into revenue that supports nonprofits in North Dakota.

Charitable organizations in the state are currently permitted to offer slot machines at their facilities after obtaining a license and paying a $150 annual fee. Nonprofits pay a five percent tax on their first $200,000 in gross gaming proceeds.