MINOT, ND — Relations between our state government and the five native tribes of North Dakota have been strained in recent years. Tax issues and disputes over mineral rights and the ugly and violent protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline have all created a tense situation.
Now the tribes are offering Gov. Doug Burgum something they think will help ease the tension. They want a monopoly on sports games in the state.
Gambling, outside of the state lottery and charity gambling, is illegal in North Dakota, but state officials have relaxed things. A big shift came with the approval of electronic drawbars (essentially slot machines) in the 2017 legislative session. Non-tribal gaming revenue in our state jumped 52% afterward, and tribes say this came at the expense of their gambling operations. The Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe reported a 42% drop in revenue that was contemporaneous with the proliferation of new pull-bar machines.
Now, there’s a push to legalize sports betting in North Dakota — a proposal to do so only got one vote in last year’s legislative session — and tribes are trying to take action. advance.
Gambling is legal on Indian reservations under the federal government’s Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, but this law requires tribes to enter into a pact with their state governments. The current pact between North Dakota and its tribes expires at the end of the current year. The tribes want a new pact to give them exclusive sports betting rights in our state, both on and off reservations.
“The tribes believe India’s Federal Gaming Regulation Act empowers them to conduct statewide online betting, using servers on tribal lands,” the Associated Press reported last week.
“I think it’s time to start looking for ways to work together, help each other, repair relationships and move forward in a positive way,” Cynthia Monteau, executive director of the United, told the AP. Tribes Gaming Association.
Should tribes have a monopoly on sports betting?
There is a national context to consider.
In California, online betting giants such as Draft Kings have pushed a ballot measure to legalize sports betting, though recent headlines suggest the effort is collapsing in the face of opposition from tribal gaming interests.
Also, states may not have the capacity to grant this type of exclusivity. Florida has given its Seminole tribe exclusive rights to expand statewide gambling and sports betting, but the deal is tied to a lawsuit. In November, a judge found he violated federal rules that require tribal-sponsored games to take place on tribal land.
This brings us back to the decision that is before North Dakota and Governor Burgum. Should he give tribal interests a monopoly on sports betting?
I doubt the average North Dakota interested in placing legal bets on sporting events cares so much whether the revenue goes to a tribal consortium or a non-tribal corporation. But maybe they should. If we want to legalize sports gambling as a new type of business in our state, shouldn’t everyone be trying to serve the market, not just tribal-owned businesses?
This is not to say that the argument advanced by the tribes is unsympathetic. Our tribal friends and neighbors have been treated miserably by our government. Their gaming industry is both an important source of income and employment for their communities, and also a recognition of sovereignty that our government has not always been very rigorous in recognizing.
But with this proposal, we are not just talking about games on tribal lands. We’re talking statewide games.
A free society should oppose monopolies. Even those prosecuted as a means of amending serious sins of the past.