Casino proposal gets attention fast

On the first day after Crossover break, just as legislators settled into the routine of the 37th legislative day, Republican House leader Al Carlson suggested building state-owned casinos.

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By MIKE JACOBS
NDNA

On the first day after Crossover break, just as legislators settled into the routine of the 37th legislative day, Republican House leader Al Carlson suggested building state-owned casinos.

That got attention.

Carlson suggested amending the state constitution to allow up to six casinos. They’d have to be built on state –owned land; they’d have to be at last 20 miles from an Indian reservation and at least five miles from a city of 5,000 population or more.

The state could buy land for casinos, but only from willing sellers. It could not use eminent domain.

The money would go to the state’s general fund.

Building the casinos would involve amending the state constitution, which requires a public vote.

North Dakota has five American Indian owned casinos, operated under the federal Indian Gaming Act and individual compacts with the state. The state doesn’t have regulatory authority, however. Nor does it tax casino profits. Nor does it have any auditing authority.

In an interview, Carlson defended the state-owned casinos as a conservative idea “as far as regulation.” The state would make the rules and audit the operations, he said.

Requiring that they be located outside the state’s larger cities would help rural economic development, he said.

What’s more, he argued, the casinos would help offset the costs of gambling programs provided by state and local human service agencies. To help that, his proposal would send profits generated by the casinos to the Community Health Trust Fund. The rest of the money would be deposited in the Bank of North Dakota, where it could be tapped for use in state budgets.

“We’d do this with the intention of lower taxes,” he said.

Carlson pointed out that South Dakota has no income tax, but it profits from gambling machines in bars. Montana also has legal gambling machines. Manitoba operates provincially owned casinos.

Carlson – not a gambler himself – said he realized North Dakotans might be ready for the idea of stated-sponsored gambling last year, when voters approved a measure allowing medical uses of marijuana.

The idea drew immediate opposition from Democrats. Rep. Marvin Nelson, the party’s gubernatorial candidate in 2016, said the idea is “retribution” for Indian activism against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Nelson represents District 9, which includes the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation – not the tribe involved in the DAPL protests.

The idea got mixed reviews from conservatives in the House. Rep. Chris Olson of West Fargo, who chairs the so-called Bastiat Caucus of small government advocates, said he thought there was a contradiction between funding gambling sites and providing money for counseling problem gamblers.

Hearings haven’t been set for the amendment, which is contained in House Concurrent Resolution 3033.

Other sponsors of the resolution are Reps. Todd Porter of Mandan, Roscoe Streyle of Minot and Sen. Lonnie Laffen of Grand Forks.