The five North Dakota tribes that operate Class III gaming on their sovereign lands won’t be allowed to operate online casino gambling under their new 10-year compacts reached with Gov. Doug Burgum (R).
The Class III gaming compacts allow the federally recognized tribes to operate Las Vegas-style slot machines, table games, and sports betting on their reservations. The compacts for the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara nations), Spirit Lake Nation, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Nation expire at the end of the year.
North Dakota law tasks the governor with determining the conditions of the tribal gaming compacts. Burgum initially agreed to consider allowing iGaming for the tribes after the nations argued that the proliferation of charitable electronic pull-tab machines that mimic traditional slots has hurt tribal gaming.
Burgum Wednesday said it’s his administration’s belief that his office lacks the authority to allow the tribes to gain online casino privileges.
Commercial gambling in North Dakota is limited to the state-run lottery and charitable gaming. The tribes contend that the so-called charitable casinos, which are required to direct their net gaming proceeds to state-approved charities and nonprofits, are poaching customers from their Indian casinos.
Burgum, who made improving state relations with the tribes a focal point of his governorship, dismissed claims last month from the charitable gaming industry that iGaming would put nonprofits at a competitive disadvantage. The charities said electronic pull tabs raised $73 million last year.
Burgum wasn’t of the belief that allowing the tribes to run online casinos would effectively end charitable gaming, as was argued by the nonprofits. But the governor says he cannot singlehandedly authorize tribal iGaming.
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,” Burgum detailed in a statement.
Burgum said he plans to instead renew the five Class III gaming compacts under similar terms as their current contracts.
The tribes are already afforded tax-free gaming, a rarity among states that have reached Class III compacts with their tribal nations. North Dakota only requires that the tribes cover the state’s regulatory costs in governing the tribal casinos for fair and safe play.
Compact Language Allows Amendments
Burgum isn’t allowing the North Dakota tribes to launch iGaming anytime soon. But his compact terms with the five gaming nations provide trigger provisions in the event of future changes to federal and state laws.
A legal case in Florida stands to impact North Dakota’s tribal gaming situation.
Last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the Seminole Tribe reached new compact terms that sought to allow the tribe to operate iGaming and online sports betting. A lawsuit was brought against the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, which ratifies state Class III gaming compacts with federally recognized tribes, for approving the new contract.
US District Judge Dabney Friedrich a year ago this month sided with the plaintiffs — the Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room — on their claim that the DOI erred in approving the Seminole compact. He said it violates the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). IGRA, they say, only permits Indian gaming on sovereign territories.
The Seminoles and DeSantis argue that iGaming and online sports betting operated by the tribes wouldn’t violate IGRA. That’s so long as the computer servers facilitating the remote gambling are housed on Seminole property. The legal case is ongoing.
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