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President of Charitable Gaming Association of ND discusses latest on the casino bill

(KVLY)
Published: Mar. 15, 2017 at 7:30 PM CDT
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UPDATE: The amendments proposed to the casino bill in committee were NOT adopted. Per Leader Carlson, the bill should have a vote on the House floor on Friday.

Jonathan Jorgensen, President of the Charitable Gaming Association of ND, spoke with us about the latest on the casino bill. The proposal has now been amended to make the possible new casinos privately run, but state regulated. They could now go in cities, but would have to be at least 40 miles from a casino on a reservation.

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

(Please note - this transcript was copied from an electronic captioning service. We apologize for any errors, spelling, grammatical, or otherwise.)

Chris Berg:

That was Jonathan Jorgensen, the president of the Charitable Gaming Association, testifying in Bismarck against the casinos bill. He was looking forward to -- there was a vote in committee today. More on that in a few moments. Good evening and welcome to "Point of View." I'm Chris Berg. Thank you for joining us.

The original version of the bill, we were looking at six state-owned casinos that had to be 20 miles away from any native American casinos and also at least five miles away from a city with a population of at least 5,000 people or more because big part of this bill that was being touted as rural development bill. Leader Carlson told me that on Monday. Today some amendments were made to this bill so that now the casinos could be privately owned. The state obviously regulate them. Also the casinos is not going to be any city in the state. You want to go roll some dice? Let me know.

Also as you probably know, many people were saying that this bill was really being introduced as sort of pay back because of the no DAPL protest to get back at the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and Prairie Knights casinos. Our leaders deny that. But one of the amendments said hey, you can't have anything closer to a Native American nation. They first said 20 miles. Then today they came out and said, if it's going to be a bill, it's got to be at least 40 miles away from any Native American casino, which probably sounds better on its face. But then someone in the office are wondering, how in the world do they come up with what seems to be a random number of 40 miles from a Native American casinos. We did a Google search how far it is and interestingly enough, according to Google maps, from Mandan to the Prairie Knights casinos, it's exactly 47.6 miles. So was the 40-mile number random? Just picked out of a hat? I don't know. We'll let you decide on that one.

Also important to know, today, the house judiciary committee voted on this bill and the amendments as well. It went down 13-2 with a do not pass recommendation coming out of committee. Probably going to be voted on the house floor either tomorrow or the next day. We'll keep you abreast on that.

To give some perspective on this bill and what it could potentially mean to charitable gaming here in North Dakota is Jonathan Jorgensen, the president of the charitable gaming association in the great state of North Dakota. First off, thank you so much for being here. Goes down 13-2 in committee with a do not pass recommendation. Should hit the floor I guess bottom line, does this thing get out of the floor with a yes vote?

Jonathan Jorgensen:

It's been a very hard thing to judge. I've heard from some lobbyists that it's got legs and I've heard from other lobbyists that this thing is gonna die. No one really knows. A lot of people want to put the vote to the people and that way they kind of have their little dodge of saying I didn't support it. I let the constituents handle it. So it's been very interesting news I get.

CB:

Do you think it might pass just on that alone going I don't necessarily support this thing, but I'm going to let the people vote on this?

JJ:

I think it has a good shot. There is a lot of talk going on.

CB:

But then it goes down 13-2 in committee and that doesn't look good.

JJ:

I've seen some other bills I've had an interest bill that also were -- got stiffed do not pass recommendations that have passed on the floor. So it's politics. Anything can happen.

CB:

Today these new amendments go we could have one right here in Fargo. I'm assuming that's not a good thing for charitable gaming. Your thoughts on these latest amendments?

JJ:

Yeah. The amendment putting a large destination -- the destination -- they put it in Fargo would be devastating for gaming in Fargo or any city that has charitable gaming and one of these casinos, it's going to be a problem for those charities. There is only so much discretionary income people have for gambling and such. There are people who prefer other game types that charities aren't able to offer. And there is nothing wrong with enjoying other game types. But we're not going to be able to compete with that.

CB:

We got a great e-mail the other night talking about this. You just mentioned, people have only got so much discretionary income. Someone said hey, has anyone done a feasibility study. We're a state of 700,000 people. Five Native American casinos. 900 charitable gaming sites across the state. Now we're looking at potentially six. Now not state owned, but six privately owned casinos run by the state. Is there a possibility that the state of 700,000 people is being saturated by gambling opportunities?

JJ:

Yeah, there is definitely that possibility. There is also other things out there like online gaming and obviously a lot of people love to travel down to Las Vegas and things like that. There is only so much to go around and representing the charitable gaming industry, I certainly think it's most beneficial to North Dakota for that money to be used for charitable use. We have tens of millions of dollars helping charities of North Dakota, money staying in North Dakota, providing services for substance abuse, amateur athletics, all sorts of different things. Boys and girls club. There are endless amounts. Veterans organizations. There are so many organizations that benefit from charitable gaming and provide services to North Dakotans that it's going to be irreparable damage if those organizations lose this funding. We would have to go back out to the state of North Dakota to say, where can we get the funds to continue providing these great services we do?

CB:

Two more things I want to get to. We literally got a phone call when I was sitting here 30 seconds before the start of the show. Somebody called in, I know you're hearing a lot of stuff about this. But this person alleges that I believe it was a bar owners were being threatened to not go and testify against this bill. Is there any credence to that? Are you hearing any of that?

JJ:

I haven't heard anything on that specific to house concurrent resolution 3033 --

CB:

But for other bills you are?

JJ:

I haven't heard anything direct. So I wouldn't want to talk about that.

CB:

Okay. Let's move on to this. There is a lot of speculation about why this bill was introduced in the first place. You've been talking to a lot of people in Bismarck in the know. I notice with some speculation and yet from your best assessment, why was this bill introduced in the first place?

JJ:

The best I could say for it is there is people who feel we have a serious budget shortfall. I'm not an economist. I'm not a politician. I don't know the numbers we're dealing with necessarily. But I live in North Dakota. I don't think it's that bad. Four years ago we had a budget surplus. To me when you want to bring in large scale gaming to help your state's bottom line, increase your revenues, that is the Hail Mary and I don't think North Dakota is at that point.

CB:

Here is the thing I want to get at. From the research I've done, it says that if you bring in casinos, it's going to impact your budgets maybe 2, 2 1/2 percent. You mentioned that's a Hail Mary. Casinos are Hail Mary. But 2% of our budget, that's not gonna really solve much.

JJ:

It doesn't sound significant to me and I don't know if it takes into account the other expenses that are going to fall on cities, the state and counties for having to deal with often crime does follow these large-scale casinos, especially if they primarily run slot machines.

CB:

Jonathan Jorgensen, president of the charitable gaming association here in North Dakota, we appreciate your time and insight.

JJ:

Thank you.