Video: Casino Bill Goes Down in Flames, but Lawmakers Warn of Possible Initiated Measure

House Majority Leader Al Carlson speaks in favor of HCR3033, a resolution he introduced which would have amended the state constitution to allow a half dozen state regulated casinos.

In a different context I think I would have liked to see HCR3033, a constitutional amendment introduced by House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R-Fargo) to allow a half-dozen private casinos in the state, go to a vote of the people.

I don’t have any more compunctions about gambling. It’s a perfectly acceptable form of entertainment, even if can become an unhealthy sort of habit for a small minority of our population. I also think there’s an appetite for it in our society. Both Carlson and Rep. Andrew Maragos (R-Minot), speaking in favor of the resolution today, argued that gambling interests may soon be pushing an initiated measure to legalize gambling soon.

“They will come in and spend the money even if there isn’t a local groundswell,” Maragos said.

“I think it’s coming any day,” Carlson added during his floor speech.

They’re probably right. And that’s not such a good thing as the initiated measure process usually produces very, very bad public policy.

But what cannot be ignored by HCR3033 was the timing. The resolution was introduced by Carlson late in the session, while the state still smarts for the ugly and violent #NoDAPL protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and it smacks of retribution. An attempt to undermine tribal casinos which are important sources of revenue for those communities.

The “consensus among our committee is that the introduction of the resolution was a response to the protests,” bill carrier Rep. Shannon Roers Jones (R-Fargo) told the house floor.

“If gambling and welfare were the solutions to our problems the reservations would be paradise,” he said.

The feeling that this resolution was born of a mean spirited desire for revenge clouded the policy question it posed. That’s too bad. North Dakota needs to have a proper debate about gambling policy because the status quo – where certain protected interests get a monopoly on gaming – is a bit ridiculous.

Rep. Dan Ruby (R-Minot) made a solid point when he pointed out that government using gaming to fund social programs is a poor practice. “If gambling and welfare were the solutions to our problems the reservations would be paradise,” he said.

Ruby is against gambling, while I’m for it, but I think the point is apt. If we’re going to allow gambling we should just allow it like any other sort of entertaining. Regulate it, sure, and tax it prudently, but let’s stop leveraging the moral objections to gambling to keep it in a box where the enterprise can be milked only by the state and certain special interests like booster clubs and charities.

Anyway, the resolution failed on a 28-63 vote. That’s a lopsided vote for a resolution backed, ardently, by the chamber’s Majority Leader.

A screenshot of the roll call vote is above.

Here’s the video of the floor debate:

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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