North Dakota’s Historical Horse Racing Bill is History

Posted on: April 5, 2017, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: April 5, 2017, 11:46h.

A gambling bill in North Dakota that would have authorized “historical” horse racing machines at the state’s parimutuel racetracks failed to pass in the House, Tuesday, by the narrowest of possible margins. SB 2221, which was approved by the Senate last month, was defeated in a 45-46 vote.

North Dakota Rejects Historical Racing
Historical racing machines in Lexington, Kentucky. North Dakota has rejected a proposal to authorize the machines, which allow customers to bet on reruns of races, at its parimutuel venues. (Image:

The bill had been criticized as a gambling expansion initiative that would have benefited the state’s racetracks to the detriment of all other gambling, including its 300 or so charitable gaming operations located in bars and clubs throughout the state.

Historical machines, or instant-racing machines, allow gamblers to place bets on races that have already been run. The terminals play reruns of races from around the world, concealing the names of the horses and dates and locations of the races.

A Slot by Any Other Name

Because these races are classed as pari-mutuel betting, with multiple players contributing to a pool, they cannot be defined as “slots,” or casino gaming. However, many believe the machines are merely slots by a different name. In 2006 the Wyoming Supreme Court riled that “a slot machine that attempts to mimic traditional pari-mutuel betting” is still a slot machine.”

Representative Lawrence Klemin (R-Bismarck), who voted against the bill, agrees with this line of thinking.

“What you see are simulated horses, cartoon characters at the last few seconds of a race. Then you’re on to the next one,” Klemin told the Bismarck Tribune. “This concept, I believe, is a phony excuse for expanding gaming.”

Don Santer, the CEO of the North Dakota Association for the Disabled said in a recent letter to the Tribune that the bill would be “devastating” to charitable gaming in the state.

“Obviously, this bill will benefit the horse racing industry,” he said. “But that benefit will cost all the other gaming charities in North Dakota,” wrote Santer.

Casino Expansion Rejected

This is the second time in as many weeks that the House has voted down a gambling expansion plan. On March 23 the it roundly rejected House Republican Majority Leader Al Carlson’s proposal to allow up to six state-regulated casinos in North Dakota.

Carlson had denied that his bill was “retribution” designed to punish Native American tribes, who operate six casinos in the state from their sovereign lands, for civil disobedience over the building of the Dakota Access pipeline.

The bill came after months of protests against the pipeline’s planned crossing under the Missouri River reservoir, near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which the tribe says threatens its water supply.