The Bismark Tribune carried good news for poker fans this week when
it reported that state legislators wanting to legalize Internet poker
in North Dakota had won another victory when the House voted 50-44
in favor of a resolution that would put the question to a vote in
the June ballot.
House Concurrent Resolution 3035 allows citizens to vote on whether the North Dakota Constitution should be amended to make Internet poker legal.
The vote on the resolution was taken yesterday afternoon (Tuesday) following a four-hour hearing on House Bill 1509, a separate bill which would set guidelines for establishing the industry in the state.
Supporters of the game say millions of people are already gambling on the Internet on offshore sites that receive little or no regulation. Rep. Blair Thoreson said regulating the industry will help reduce problems with those who already play the game. "If we don't do something to regulate it, who knows what the downside is," Thoreson said.
Internet poker sites operate offshore because of fear of the 1961 Wire Act, which was aimed at preventing betting over the phone lines. However, supporters of the legislation say that law does not apply to Internet poker.
"Obviously the Internet wasn't even a gleam in anyone's eye at that point," Sue Schneider, CEO of River City Group, told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. Schneider said the law is specific to sports betting, not Internet poker.
Opponents of the bill are worried that legalizing Internet poker will pit the state against the federal government, or it will lead to an expansion of gambling.
Rep. Kari Conrad, said the state could spend $1 million to fight the federal government if the Justice Department says the state's law is illegal. "All of the other gaming we've considered was in the realm of possibility. This is not," Conrad said. "This I think it is too big of a gamble."
Nevada has already passed legislation legalizing Internet poker, but that legislation never went into effect because it required approval of the Justice Department, which has taken the position under President Bush and former President Clinton that the practice is illegal.
Nigel Payne, CEO of Sportingbet Plc., the largest Internet sports and gaming business in the world, said the industry wants to be regulated because it will give customers more confidence in their operations. "Customers will flock to a Web site that's regulated," Payne said.
Payne, who flew into Bismarck from the company's headquarters in London, also testified in favor of the bill, and said his company alone would generate $10 million a year in tax revenue for the state.
Also attending the hearing and giving evidence for online poker was Michael Corfman, the portal and publishing industry personality who has challenged the US Department of Justice on their attempts to intimidate online advertising media.
Corfman, who is president of Casino City Press of Newton, Mass., said the number of poker sites has risen from 43 in June 2003 to 266 at the end of last month.
"If a state agrees to license Internet poker sites, American players, who make up a majority of the market, will naturally gravitate to sites regulated in the United States," he said. "That's just common sense. If you were gaming, or going to play poker, where would you rather play? I think you'd all rather play in a regulated environment, and you'd rather play in the United States than some overseas jurisdiction."
Some opponents of the bill said the problems the industry would bring
would outweigh the benefits.
Sen. Connie Triplett said she has not decided how she will vote yet. However, Triplett, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the arguments from opponents seem to justify the need to regulate the industry. "The opponents did a better job of pointing out the need for the bill than the proponents," Triplett said.
The issue is far from being resolved by the Legislature.
HCR3035 and HB1509 will both have to be approved before Internet poker could be legalized.