Proposal would get the state into the casino business

Mar 13, 2017

House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R-Fargo) testifies on the casino bill before the House Judiciary Committee (3-13-17).
Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

Three Affiliated Tribes chairman Mark Fox testifies on the casino bill before the House Judiciary Committee (3-13-17)
Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

A House committee is studying a Constitutional measure to allow up to six state owned casinos to be built in rural North Dakota.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R-Fargo) authored the measure. He said the casinos would be built to be “destination locations.” They would be 5 miles or more from cities of 5000 people or larger, and they would be at least 20 miles from the reservations, which have their own casinos.  It would be put on the statewide ballot in 2018.

Carlson told the House Judiciary Committee the "face of North Dakota has changed."

"There isn't many of you in here who would have thought the Medical Marijuana issue would have passed," Carlson said. "Initiated measures are going to come along. And I believe it's best if we control the situation, instead of reacting to what we get."

Carlson said he's positive an initiated measure would be on the ballot to open up casing gambling.

"Is this an expansion of gambling?" Carlson said. "If you don't like gambling, yes. Are the people doing it anyway? Yes."

Carlson said his hope was to create something for rural North Dakota. But one of the co-sponsors told the committee he would like to see the casinos built in the larger cities.

"Putting them in rural areas would be totally counter to the Governor's 'Mainstreet Initiative,'" Sen. Lonnie Laffen (R-Grand Forks) told the committee. "The difference in revenue is about triple (in cities versus rural areas)."

Tribes and charitable gaming organizations oppose the measure. Mark Fox is chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, which has a tribal casino. He told the committee the gaming compacts signed with the state in the 1990s have been good for the tribes.

"With the compacts, we do two primary things," Fox said. "We're going to get revenue to the tribes, who badly need it for infrastructure, schools, health. And the second-most important thing is jobs."

Fox said the casinos create about 200 jobs per site. He said he worries gaming will become saturated – and the tribes will lose.

Ken Karls is the executive director of the Cystic Fibrosis Association of North Dakota. He told the committee he fears the money made from charitable gambling would dry up.

"HCR 3033 will do unmistakable harm to our ability to continue to fund our programs," Karls said.

The committee did not take immediate action on Carlson's resolution.