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ND House defeats historic horse race wagering bill

BISMARCK — House lawmakers narrowly defeated a bill that some considered a major expansion of gambling in North Dakota Tuesday, April 4.

Senate Bill 2221, which allowed for wagering on historic horse racing, failed in a 45-46 vote after passing the Senate last month. Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, said bettors would wager on "reruns" of horse races, while another lawmaker compared the concept to a slot machine.

"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 said. "This concept, I believe, is a phony excuse for expanding gaming."

A fiscal note prepared by the state Racing Commission, which would have regulated the historic horse races, predicted $250 million of wagering in 2019, which would then drop off to $200 million in each of the next two years. Some of the revenue would have gone to the state's general fund, the compulsive gambling prevention and treatment fund, local government coffers and three funds administered by the Racing Commission.

The bill limited the number of sites that could conduct historic horse racing to 10.

Supporters denied that the bill significantly opened up gambling in the state. Rep. Roscoe Streyle, R-Minot, said the concept is different from slot machines because it requires skill.

North Dakota already allows wagering on live and simulcast horse races.

"This is not a new type of gambling. It is a technology change," Streyle said.

Don Santer, the CEO of the North Dakota Association for the Disabled, a nonprofit that conducts charitable gaming, said in a letter to the editor late last month 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."

Streyle, however, said other charities supported the bill.

Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, said the people involved in raising horses are "ag-based people."

"The money that can be garnered from this can help increase that business, help jumpstart that industry," Nathe said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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