igamingnext photo
North Dakota lawmakers continued discussing mobile sports betting legislation in the latest step toward what could produce another state with legal online sportsbooks.

Mobile sports betting advocates testified before a North Dakota Senate panel Monday in support of a proposal that would create a study committee to evaluate legalization. Speaking at a Senate Judiciary Committee, Pat Gibbs of the Sports Betting Alliance (SBA) said online legalization was critical for capturing bettors using unregulated offshore sites or unlicensed bookmakers.

“It is in the state’s best interest to authorize and regulate statewide sports betting by licensed operators,” Gibbs said in written testimony to the panel. “Doing so captures revenue for the state that would otherwise go to unregulated overseas websites.”

Gibbs represents the SBA as its public policy council. The organization, an advocacy group founded by FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM and Fanatics, has supported legalization policy in statehouses across the country.

Lawmakers didn’t take any action on the bill on Monday’s hearing but could vote the bill out of committee in the coming days or weeks. North Dakota’s 2023 legislative session is set to adjourn in late April.

North Dakota sports betting

Monday’s Senate vote comes a few weeks after the North Dakota House approved a measure that would place a mobile sports betting referendum on the 2024 ballot. If approved by voters, North Dakota’s first mobile sportsbooks would be set to launch sometime in 2025.

The House approved the ballot measure proposal 49-44. It still needs to pass the full Senate before it can go before voters.

The Senate bill discussed Monday would complement the ballot measure by creating a study committee to evaluate how mobile sports betting would be implemented in the state should it be approved by voters. It would direct a panel selected by many of the state’s top elected officials to discover the steps necessary to enact online sports betting, including how to protect the state’s financial interests as well as protect consumers.

Voters in neighboring South Dakota approved a retail-only sports betting ballot measure in 2020. Voters in Arkansas, Colorado, New Jersey, Nebraska and Maryland also approved sports betting, either as standalone ballot measures or as part of larger casino gaming expansions.

California is the only state to place a sports betting legalization ballot measure before voters that was not passed.

North Dakota already has legal retail sportsbooks at tribal casinos. Online sports betting would likely make up more than 90% of the state’s handle if it was approved.

“Because of this lack of information and strong preference for mobile options, many people continue to use these websites in North Dakota despite sports betting being authorized at the state’s tribal casinos,” Gibbs testified Monday, “and will continue to do so until the legal regulated market can provide the same level of convenience as the unregulated, offshore market.”

Gibbs cited GeoComply data in his testimony that showed more than 31,000 geolocation checks for legal sportsbooks in just the past five months coming from more than 5,000 unique player accounts. Gibbs said this represents a small fraction of North Dakota bettors looking to place a mobile sports bet.

Upper Midwest looks for breakthrough

North Dakota could be the first state in the region to approve a competitive mobile sports betting market.

South Dakota’s retail-only structure limits in-person sports betting to casinos in the city of Deadwood as well as certain tribal gaming facilities. Montana likewise doesn’t permit statewide mobile sports betting and only allows legal wagering via the state lottery-run Sports Bet Montana.

The Minnesota state House passed a mobile sports betting bill last year but it did not pass the Senate. Advocates are hoping that a new bill can pass in 2023, especially after the state’s Democrat-Farmer-Labor flipped the state Senate in the 2022 elections, giving the DFL control of both chambers as well the governor’s mansion.

A successful legalization effort in North Dakota, which shares the Fargo metro area with Minnesota, could be another catalyst for action in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.