North Dakota Tribes Can Offer Online Gambling – But Only On Their Land

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Unsurprisingly, North Dakota will not attempt to offer online sports betting and casinos statewide through a tribal compact.

That was what the tribes in the state had proposed. However, there were several good reasons to doubt Governor Doug Burgum would agree. For one thing, it’s a conservative state, and last year’s online poker bill received a very chilly reception in the legislature. There’s also opposition from charitable gaming organizations in the state, which feel the availability of online gambling would cause residents to lose interest in their products.

Perhaps most importantly, the proposal probably wasn’t legal to begin with; just ask Florida. It attempted to initiate statewide online sports betting that way in order to avoid the need for a referendum. However, it’s now enmired in a legal battle with the federal government, which disagrees with the idea that bets can be considered to take place on a reservation just because that’s where the servers are.

Gov. Burgum acknowledged that this was the greatest concern:

While we understand and appreciate the desire by some of the tribes to extend online gaming beyond their reservation boundaries, a clear legal path does not exist for the governor to grant such a broad expansion of gaming in the compact.

That said, the tribes did get quite a lot out of the new compact. They can now accept credit and debit cards for gambling, which they weren’t previously able to do. The legal gambling age for tribal gaming also got lowered from 21 to 19, which matches some other states like Michigan.

Most interestingly, they did get the right to offer online sports betting and mobile gaming on their own land.

Will ND Tribes Bother With On-Reservation Online Gambling?

That’s a far cry from statewide online gambling. North Dakotans still won’t be able to bet at home while watching a game on TV. Unless, of course, they happen to be a tribe member themselves, living on a reservation.

Nor is it likely to be a big money maker. Although North Dakotans without tribal status could drive to a reservation to bet online, few will do so. Anyone making that trip is more likely to want to go into the casino than to sit in a parking lot playing on their phone.

Revenue reports from Connecticut hint at just how little to expect from this channel. They separate on- and off-reservation revenue for the two CT online casinos. In September, their combined on-reservation revenue was under $100,000, compared to about $24 million from off-reservation play.

Connecticut also has almost four times the population of North Dakota. That suggests that the monthly revenue from on-reservation mobile betting and gaming would be in the tens of thousands. Finding a technology partner for that sum would be difficult, as the revenue probably wouldn’t even pay for the costs of offering it.

An Unexpectedly Positive Tone

That said, it might be worth it for the tribes to try. It could be a bit more popular than in Connecticut because of the lack of availability of an off-reservation option. More importantly, however, it would establish a precedent.

North Dakotans who try it might ask for a law to make it legal statewide. Opponents who find the concept scary might find it less so once it already exists and hasn’t caused a crisis.

Possibly the most interesting thing about the ND government’s announcement is how positive Gov. Burgum sounds about the prospect of gambling expansion in the near future:

We plan to work with the Legislature to bring all parties to the table and take a comprehensive look at gaming during the upcoming 2023 session, including sports betting, e-tabs and other gaming.

Perhaps something similar to Connecticut’s deal could come out of those negotiations. The Nutmeg State had been stuck in a stalemate on sports betting for years until Gov. Ned Lamont softened on the idea of online casinos. That proved to be the bargaining chip that persuaded the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to share sports betting with the lottery.

Maybe in North Dakota, the solution will be to allow some form of charitable sports betting in return for the tribes getting to extend their online products beyond their reservation borders.

About the Author

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon is the Casino News Managing Editor for Bonus. He’s a former semiprofessional poker player and has been writing about online gambling professionally since 2014. Prior to his current position, he was Managing Editor at Online Poker Report and, before that, the GameIntel Poker Update, a subscription newsletter for industry executives. Alex provides insightful content on the regulated online casino and poker industries, with an emphasis on legislation, regulation, responsible gambling and business strategy. His writing about poker has earned him multiple nominations for the American Poker Awards over the years.

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