North Dakota not to legalize online poker


Dormant account
Online poker defeated
By DALE WETZEL, Associated Press Writer
The Legislature's dalliance with Internet poker regulation ended abruptly Monday, when a bill to make North Dakota the first state to license cyberspace poker tables got only three Senate votes to support it.

"This is just another vehicle for more gambling in North Dakota, and I'm not so sure we want it," said Sen. David Nething, R-Jamestown.

The measure lost in the Senate, 44-3, after a brief debate Monday. It squeaked through the House last month, 49-43, and its sponsor, Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, has been lobbying senators on the measure's behalf.

Sens. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, John Syverson, R-Fargo, and Jack Traynor, R-Devils Lake, backed the measure. They supported it in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which reviewed the legislation.

North Dakota voters would have to approve a state constitutional amendment for the regulatory bill to take effect. Traynor said a Senate vote supporting the legislation would still leave the question in voters' hands. A Senate vote to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot is still pending.

"It strikes me that we should let the people of the state decide if they want this," Traynor said. "The promoters have told us it could amount ... to some significant economic activity in our communities."

Senators voted to approve amendments to the legislation Monday, before deciding to kill the bill. It was not sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee for further work, as is customary for a measure with a large price tag.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem estimated it would cost at least $1 million over two years to regulate the industry, an expense industry officials have said they would be willing to pay.

Critics of the measure said they were wary of the U.S. Justice Department's stand that Internet gambling in general is illegal. Stenehjem and Gov. John Hoeven declined to endorse the legislation.

"There are at least three federal laws out there that make this legislation suspect," said Sen. Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo.

North Dakota's Internet poker bill has been a frequently cited example of recent state attempts to broaden cyberspace gambling.

South Dakota's Legislature has approved allowing telephone and electronic mail wagering on horse or dog races, as long as interstate betting is done using South Dakota bank accounts.

Lawmakers in Illinois and Georgia are considering bills to allow Internet lottery ticket sales. In Georgia, the measure is awaiting a Senate vote after winning easy House approval. The Illinois bill is still awaiting its first vote, in the Senate.

Nevada and the U.S. Virgin Islands have previously approved measures that would authorize licensing of Internet casinos, but the Justice Department's stance has stalled potential regulation in those jurisdictions.

North Dakota state Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, referred to recent federal felony convictions for Susan Bala, owner of Racing Services Inc., and the company itself for running an illegal Fargo gambling site to take off-track bets on horse races.

The company has been ordered to pay $99 million in restitution, with Bala responsible for $19.7 million of that sum.

"Gambling seems to lead to corruption. Once you've lost the money that you wagered, if you don't have it to lose, what's the next thing you do? You have to try to get it back some way," Bowman said. "A lot of times, it leads to very bad decisions."

Robinson said the Legislature should not spend any more time debating Internet poker.

"We have far more pressing priorities that we should be addressing ... whether they be K-12 education, or human services, or corrections, state employee salaries, renewable energy," Robinson said. "Gambling is not one of those issues that's a high priority."

The bill is HB1509.