Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, wants poker played over the Internet to be defined in the state Constitution as a game of skill rather than gambling.
“I submit to you that poker is much different than gambling,” Kasper told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday. “The skill is what you do with what you are given.”
Kasper is hoping that if Internet poker is excluded from the definition of gambling, it could entice hundreds of Internet poker businesses to North Dakota, creating hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue for the state.
“This could potentially match the whole revenue stream that the state has now,” Kasper said.
His proposal is contained in House Bill 1509.
Internet poker companies currently locate in other countries because they fear a 1961 federal law that prohibits gambling over the wire.
Kasper wants to allow operations of the sites in North Dakota and fight the federal government in court if the federal officials block state law.
Some committee members were skeptical if North Dakota could win a case against the federal government, while others were wary of changing the definition of gambling.
“It’s hard for me to look at this bill and say this isn’t really gambling,” Rep. Lois Delmore, D-Grand Forks, said.
Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, said that if the bill passes, the state could have to pay for costly legal fees if the federal government challenges it.
Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, supported the bill, saying that North Dakota needs to take a chance.
“I believe that for the people of North Dakota and for the state, we need to be strong and take on this challenge and not be afraid to step out of the box,” Dosch said.
Former Gov. Art Link, a longtime opponent of gambling, testified against the bill. Link said that since the state allowed charitable gambling years ago, other forms of gambling have grown.
“I made the statement then that gambling has an insatiable appetite that can never be satisfied,” Link said.
Kasper said the bill does not expand gambling because people can already legally play poker in casinos and on the Internet.
Kasper said the bill could bring up to $500 million of new revenue to the state because the profits would be taxed and each player would pay a $10 annual registration fee.
Kasper said Internet poker companies want to be regulated because their customers would have more trust that the games are not rigged.
The bill is accompanied by a resolution that would require a vote of the people in 2006 asking them to change the definition of gambling in the North Dakota Constitution.
Under his plan, Kasper would use 60 percent of the Poker Qq Online revenue for property tax relief, 20 percent for public education and 20 percent for the state’s general fund.
Link said the state should not rely on gambling for revenue.
“Are we so bankrupt in North Dakota that we have to depend on the whims of people who wish to play gambling games?” Link said.
The committee didn’t immediately take action on the bill.