Online poker? You bet

Worldwide live Internet poker

BISMARCK - After glowing speeches about its potential for economic development, jobs and unique opportunities, the House voted Wednesday to have the state become a national headquarters for companies that host worldwide live Internet poker.

Rep. Bill Kretschmar, R-Venturia, said North Dakota would offer to regulate the industry here, collecting taxes and fees for its general fund in the process.

"It's like 'If you build it they will come,'" he said. No companies operate in the U.S. now, he said. They are in the Caribbean or other foreign countries.

Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, is the prime sponsor of House Bill 1509 and said the state could enjoy tremendous revenue from licensing and regulating the industry.

"This industry is growing at about 10 percent per month. No single state has passed legislation like this. We would be the first to do that," he said. "So the market is tremendous and as you know, the first one out of the chute generally has a pretty good opportunity to capture that marketplace."

He said that because the Internet sites are already there, "This is not an expansion of gaming whatsoever."

He said if the state licenses 200 poker sites, it could take in $40 million. There are 50 million Internet poker players in the country now and 300 million worldwide. If the state licensed 50 million players, "That's 500 million dollars per year new revenue to North Dakota."

Another sponsor, Rep. Ron Iverson, R-Fargo, said, "This is a rare opportunity for us to be first out of the gate here. The reason other states aren't doing this is they don't have the foresight. This is our time. This is our time to seize this opportunity."

Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Fargo, said he doesn't think companies would bring jobs here. It's more likely the company would bring a 4-foot-by-4-foot computer server, he said.

The bill passed 49-43.

The House vote comes less than two weeks after North Dakota's horse betting industry scandal culminated in conviction of Racing Services Inc. and owner Susan Bala on a dozen federal charges related to a clandestine, illegal off-track betting parlor.

In RSI's case, Bala made her company and North Dakota a national and international leader in simulcast horse race wagering. Until news of state and federal investigations surfaced in 2003, she had lured gamblers who bet as much as $160 million a year through RSI and the state reaped a windfall that has now dried up.

The bill is an "enabling act' that would only go into effect if the Legislature and the state's voters approve a constitutional amendment to allow the industry.

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