SB 2221, a gambling bill that would have allowed instant-racing machines (or historical machines) at parimutuel race tracks in North Dakota, failed to pass the State House at the narrow margin of 45-46. The games are unique in that they are based on horse races that have already been run, allowing players to wager on the results. All details of the races, such as the names of the horses and the dates the race was run, are kept blank.
Under North Dakota gambling laws, these games cannot be defined as casino gambling since they are parimutuel betting with several players contributing to the bill. However, they are close enough to slot games to be heavily criticized and therefore the bill failed to pass the House vote. Critics also said that SB 2221 would have harmed the state’s gambling revenues (and the charities that they support), and would have only benefited the race tracks where the historical machines would have been housed.
Republican Rep. Lawrence Klemin explained why he voted against SB 2221: “What you see are simulated horses, cartoon characters at the last few seconds of a race. Then you’re on to the next one,” he said. “This concept, I believe, is a phony excuse for expanding gaming.”
Klemin’s comments echoed a Wyoming Supreme Court ruling which stated that “a slot machine that attempts to mimic traditional parimutuel betting is still a slot machine.”
Proponents of SB 2221, however, claim that the historical machines would have benefited both race tracks and charities. Rep. Andy Maragos noted the positive side of the bill for the state’s racing industry, saying that it “was hurting for a while, it’s kind of stabilized, and now we have to help it grow. I believe this bill and what it has to offer will help the horse racing industry grow.”
Late last month, the House rejected a proposal by House Republican Majority Leader Al Carlson’s idea to allow up to six state-regulated casinos.
It wasn’t all bad news for efforts to expand gambling in North Dakota. The Senate recently approved a bill to allow ‘electronic pull tabs’, backing the idea that it was not an expansion of gambling per se, but rather the ‘modernization’ of an existing form of entertainment.
“The old version can still be had, just like you can still get your old box games out of Monopoly or anything else you’ve ever played,” noted bill sponsor, Sen. Carolyn Nelson. “It’s the same rules, but they’re now electronic.”