This week, the focus in North Dakota has been on online poker. Pure and simple, it's the only thing on the lips of most of the residents of this state. That is mostly because the residents know what is at stake here for their state, and the possible economic boom that is on the horizon. If North Dakota House Bill 1509 passes the senate, and then is approved by voters, it would probably have the biggest financial impact per capita than any piece of legislation in the history of our country. Sure, when states started legalizing lotteries, a mountain of new revenue was generated for the states in question. But North Dakota is 48th out of the 50 in population, and per capita, this bill would have a huge impact on its 650,000 citizens (only Vermont, 49th, and Montana, 50th, rank behind ND in population Ironic because Montana is the fourth largest state in square mileage).
Rep Jim Kasper (R) has been leading the fight for the passage of HB 1509, a bill he authored, and sponsored into the house. The bill passed the house by a narrow 49 to 43 margin, and is right on the 'bubble' of passing the senate. Testimony in front of the senate began this week, and will continue well into next week. Celebrity Poker Host, top player, and really tall guy Phil Gordon will testify before the senate on Monday to lobby for the passage of HB 1509.
Rep Kasper has been brave to stand up in the face of some implied pressure from the feds. About a week ago, a US Department of Justice official, when asked about the bill implied the feds might challenge the law under the Wire Act, a piece of legislation enacted in 1960 to prevent interstate sports betting, and other types of gambling. But, the Internet was not even a twinkle in anyone's eye until the late 70's/early 80's, and most legal experts agree the Wire Act is not an enforceable piece of legislation when it comes to online poker.
Rep Kasper has also been shrewd to amend his own bill a couple of times. The first amendment required that the online poker sites in question actually have a "significant presence" in the state. This means that just sticking servers, and five people to balance them in the middle of nowhere in ND will not fly under this bill. Additionally, and much more importantly, this bill allows for the formation of a legal 'defense fund' for the state, bankrolled by the online poker industry. This fund, rumored to be in the two to three million dollar range, will be available to attorneys in North Dakota as a war chest available to fight any Federal challenges to this bill.
In case you think that Party Poker and the like are currently buying up buildings in ND in anticipation of moving there next week, think again. This bill still has to endure several processes, including ratification by the voters (yes, the people actually get to decide if they want this), and the State Constitution of North Dakota must be amended to make this piece of legislation law in the state. Best-case scenario, we are looking at North Dakota being the US hub of the online poker world by about the middle of 2006 .Yes, I said 2006. Stay Tuned.
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