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North Dakota Online and Land Based Gaming

North Dakota

North Dakota is far from a bustling center for casino activity in the United States, but it isn’t a barren wasteland, either. Residents here enjoy a solid mix of Native American and charitable gambling options, with a small amount of parimutuel betting and an interesting lottery framework existing too.

One thing you won’t find, at least for the moment, is any sort of regulated online gambling. However, this isn’t due to a lack of effort: you might be surprised to learn, in fact, that North Dakota was one of the first states to consider licensing online play in the United States.

Nearly a Pioneer, State Now Lags in Online Play

Indeed lawmakers made a concerted effort for North Dakota to become the first state in the USA to allow Internet gambling within its borders. Back in 2005, they considered a proposal to legalize and regulate online poker within our borders. This was obviously well before the Wire Act interpretation that prompted states like Nevada and NJ to start their own licensed Internet gaming marketplaces; however, remember that it was also before the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which put a chill on many efforts to consider such regulation.

Ultimately, however, the legislature didn’t prove particularly interested in allowing Internet play back then. The State Senate did take up the measure for a vote, but it was a rather lopsided one: the bill went down in defeat by a 43-3 margin. Since then, there have been no strong efforts to regulate the industry here.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t play at online casinos in North Dakota, however. Because of the lack of a regulatory framework, the Peace Garden State is a grey market – one in which online casino sites continue to accept players, even though they are not locally licensed. Many highly-rated sites do offer real money slots and other games here, and residents can safely play on these sites, knowing that there are no laws against doing so.

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No Commercial Gaming, But Plenty of Other Options

North Dakota was a relatively late adopter when it came to developing a modern gaming industry. It wasn’t until the 1970s when the first exceptions for charitable games were allowed, giving some organizations the right to hold bingo nights and raffles. An expansion effort in 1987 opened up the doors to a much larger charitable gambling industry, and today, there are several charity casinos that exist in cities like Fargo, Bismarck, and Grand Forks.

Parimutuel betting on horse racing is also allowed, though this has generally been a rather small-scale industry. The North Dakota Horse Park has failed to even run races in Fargo in recent years, including in 2015; even in years when such races have taken place, they have occurred on as little as two days in a given year. However, Chippewa Downs in Belcourt does still offer racing each year, typically opening for several weekends over the summer months.

One of the more interesting aspects of gaming here is the North Dakota Lottery. In 2002, 63% of voters came out in favor of establishing a state lottery through a constitutional amendment. However, unlike in any other state, this did not allow the government to start holding its own drawings or selling its own products. Instead, it solely authorized the state to take part in multistate games. That means that players can buy tickets for Mega Millions, Powerball, Hot Lotto, and other games that are played across the country, but there are no specific games available only within our borders.

At the moment, the dominant force in gaming here are Indian tribes, who run several resort-style casinos. After the 1988 passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, tribes here joined others across the country in attempting to establish operations on their reservations.

A major breakthrough for the North Dakota tribes came in 1992, when five tribes were able to sign compacts with the state government. These agreements allowed the tribes to operate full Class III gaming operations, including slot machines, poker, and table games. These compacts have been renewed multiple times since then, most recently in 2013.

At the moment, there are five full-scale casinos in North Dakota, each operated by a different tribe:

  • Dakota Magic (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate)
  • Spirit Lake (Spirit Lake Tribe)
  • Four Bears (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation)
  • Skydancer (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians)
  • Prairie Knights Resort (Standing Rock Sioux)

Future Developments Uncertain

At the moment, there is very little chatter in North Dakota about the future of the gambling landscape. Changes are always possible, of course, but no pressing issues have come to light in recent years. There has been some minor trouble between the government and the Indian resorts over bingo operations, and the horse racing industry has struggled mightily to retain some relevance and stability, but overall, things are likely to stay as they are – especially with no strong push for commercial casinos by politicians.

A similar story is true in the realm of online gaming. There simply doesn’t seem to be much will to push for expansion here – a surprise, perhaps, given that very early vote on regulating the industry a decade ago. But given the many changes in the Internet gaming industry since then, it’s likely that any momentum from back then was long gone by the time the new wave of efforts started to crop up in other states. It’s possible that the state might once again find an interest in bringing online betting into a licensed framework, but it is hard to believe it will happen in the next few years.


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