Is North Dakota the next state to approve regulated online poker?

Geoff Fisk
Published by:
Posted on 02/23/2021

Online poker measure passes state house vote and now goes to public ballot

The rapid expansion of regulated online gambling in the U.S. includes a growing number of states giving the green light to online sports betting. Online poker, however, hasn’t quite grown at the same rate.

 As of February 2021, five U.S. states allow regulated online poker. Players in Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Michigan can access state-regulated online poker sites. A sixth state, West Virginia, has legislation in place to eventually introduce online poker.

North Dakota could join that list next year. An online poker bill passed through the North Dakota House of Representatives Tuesday, and as a result, the matter of online poker legalization will appear on the 2022 ballot in North Dakota.

Longtime online poker advocate Rep. Jim Kasper stands as the main force behind the push for online poker in North Dakota. As reported by PokerNews’ Chad Holloway, the measure passed by a 54-40 margin Tuesday:

“It passed! @RepJimKasper‘s North Dakota bill supporting online poker needed 48 votes. 54 yea, 40 nay. Citizens will now be asked a simple question – whether or not they want online poker in their state – during the next election. If they do door will be open for online poker,” Holloway tweeted.

An online sports betting bill passed a House vote Tuesday as well, by a 70-24 vote. The difference in the margins for the online poker bill versus the sports betting measure reflects the growing acceptance of sports betting, against a still tentative U.S. market for regulated online poker

Rep. Jim Kasper’s 16-year poker push

Rep. Kasper sits at the forefront of the effort to legalize online poker perhaps more than any other public office holder in the U.S. Kasper’s online poker advocacy goes all the way back to 2005.

Long before explicit state-by-state online gambling regulations showed up on the U.S. radar, Kasper attempted to challenge the federal stance on online poker. In 2005, the U.S. Wire Act explicitly outlawed any kind of gambling transactions that used electronic means.

The online poker powerhouses of that time (PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker) operated in the U.S. in the face of that federal stance. Kasper’s 2005 bill passed the House vote, but ultimately met its end in the North Dakota senate.

Fast forward to 2021, and the federal outlook toward online gambling is drastically different. A 2011 Department of Justice opinion on the Wire Act ruled that the language of the mandate only applied to sports betting transactions that crossed state lines.

That ruling set the stage for the current U.S. online poker landscape. PokerStars and Full Tilt were forced out of the U.S. market by federal authorities in 2011.

That brought an end to the poker boom era of unregulated poker sites ruling the U.S. market. Like all other forms of online gambling, current federal laws allow each state to choose its own stance on mobile gambling.

North Dakota might seem an unlikely backdrop for the slow expansion of online poker to continue in the U.S. Tuesday’s vote, however, marks a positive step in an effort from one of online poker’s longest-standing advocates on American shores.

Featured image source: Flickr/Brett Elliot