Five North Dakota tribes want to level the playing field with exclusive rights to host Internet gambling and sports betting. The tribes attempt to convince Governor Doug Burgum to sign a pact giving them the rights.
The pact proposal is expected to be in its final form for a public hearing on Friday.
If the tribes get the pact, it could net them millions. Tribes have seen their casino revenue decline since 2017, when the legislature legalized electronic drawbar machines. North Dakotans invested nearly $1.75 billion in machinery in fiscal year 2022.
Sports betting has exploded since the United States Supreme Court legalized it. Sports leagues and television networks that avoided any hint of gambling embraced it. Players can even bet on single games during matches, not just on the final result.
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DraftKings, a major gambling company, failed to win legislation and a resolution in the last legislative session allowing sports betting. DraftKings estimates that 138,000 North Dakotans bet more than $355 million in illegal offshore markets each year.
The tribes say they deserve the opportunity to recoup the revenue they lost to electronic drawbars. Casino money gave tribes a much-needed source of income. The money goes into a variety of improvements and projects on the reservations.
Burgum has worked hard to improve state-tribal relations since taking office. Relations had soured during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, with many residents boycotting casinos, particularly Prairie Knights on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
Burgum has not publicly commented on the proposed pact as negotiations are ongoing. The current pacts between the tribes and the state expire at the end of the year, and only Burgum can approve them. The tribes deserved a fair hearing and the proposal, on its face, has a lot of merit. More details are expected to be released on Friday.
The tribes have done a good job running their casinos. The facilities offer meals, shows, rodeos and other events in addition to gambling. They have become popular getaways in North Dakota.
Electronic drawbars have taken a bite out of business that Internet gambling and sports betting could make up for. The tribes showed that they could deliver a good product. A compact between the state and the tribes should include guidelines and rules on how revenues are distributed.
The tribes had opposed the approval of electronic drawbars because they feared the impact on casinos. The tribes believe that India’s Federal Gaming Regulation Act gives them the power to conduct statewide online betting using servers located on tribal lands.
A similar agreement between Florida and the Seminole tribe has landed in federal court over whether it violates a federal rule requiring a person to be physically present on tribal lands when betting.
So if Burgum approves the pact, there could be legal questions that need to be answered. There will likely be opposition to the pact at the hearing. Still, the tribes should have a chance if an agreement can be reached on the terms of the pact.
This would benefit the tribes, and the state would no doubt get a share of the revenue.