House lawmakers defeated a resolution opening the door to off-reservation casinos in North Dakota in convincing fashion Thursday.
In a 28-63 vote, lawmakers shot down House Concurrent Resolution 3033, introduced by House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo.
The resolution was introduced to allow up to six state-owned casinos away from Native American reservations and the state's larger cities, but it was amended to allow no more than six private casinos at least 40 miles from the reservations with no other location restrictions. It would have created a state commission to regulate the industry.
The resolution would have asked voters in next year’s general election to amend the state Constitution to allow the casinos.
Proponents worried the casino question will come to the ballot through a measure initiated by the public. The resolution would allow lawmakers to be proactive, they said.
“We have to learn in this assembly and in this process that if we don’t get out in front of an issue, we may not be able to run fast enough to keep up with the issue,” said Rep. Andrew Maragos, R-Minot. “And we should never be afraid to let the people of North Dakota decide an issue.”
But Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said he hasn’t heard people talking about casinos until the session started.
“I don’t hear a huge outcry for that,” he said, pointing to the costs of gambling addiction services. “If people really want this, I say let them put it on the ballot.”
A tribal chairman and charitable gaming officials testified against the original resolution earlier this month based on fears it would drain their revenues. Casinos are currently allowed on tribal land in North Dakota through federal law, while the state Constitution allows for a multi-state lottery and charitable gaming.
Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Mark Fox said Thursday’s vote was the “best decision for all parties involved.” He previously told lawmakers revenues the tribe uses for various services would be “greatly diminished” if the state allowed the casinos.
Jonathan Jorgensen, president of the Charitable Gaming Association of North Dakota, also welcomed the resolution’s defeat. He said people have a limited amount of discretionary income to spend on entertainment.
“Some of that money was going to be going away from charitable gaming and it would have been going to these privately owned casinos,” Jorgensen said.
The resolution was introduced almost two months after the start of the session, and House lawmakers extended committee deadlines several times this month before it reached the floor this week. The House Judiciary Committee gave it a “do not pass” recommendation twice, most recently in its amended form Monday.
While the resolution generated plenty of discussion inside and outside of the Capitol, the floor debate was relatively short. Only four lawmakers rose to make their pitch.
Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, cited concerns that resolution appeared to be a response to the monthslong protests adjacent to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Carlson has said it wasn’t a retaliatory measure against the tribes.
Carlson noted the resolution gave the Legislature the discretion whether to allow the casinos. He said the House’s decision shouldn’t be based on whether lawmakers favored gambling, but instead whether voters should have a say.
Carlson shrugged off the resolution’s defeat after the vote and said he didn’t expect it to pass. He said the Legislature still has plenty of work on big-ticket items this session.
“Do as you will,” Carlson said before two-thirds of the House pressed the red button at their desks.
Call John Hageman at (701) 255-5607 or send email to email@example.com