Commission halts Vegas-style games at gas stations, stores

May 19, 2022 GMT

BISMARCK,N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota Gaming Commission endorsed a rule change Thursday that creates a moratorium on electronic pull tab machines at gas stations and liquor, grocery and convenience stores.

The commission voted 3-2 to alter the definition of a bar to make clear where the Las Vegas-style games that mimic slot machines will be allowed. Lawmakers are expected to address the issue when the Legislature reconvenes next year.

Attorney General Drew Wrigley and Deb McDaniel, North Dakota’s top gambling regulator, told the governor-appointed panel that idea for the rule change is to clarify and preserve what they believe the intent of the Legislature in 1994 when it defined a bar as a “retail alcoholic beverage establishment where alcoholic beverages are dispensed and consumed.”

The amended language specifies that a bar does not include gas stations and liquor, grocery and convenience stores. A bar in a hotel, bowling alley or restaurant could still have the machines, under the new definition.

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McDaniel said four stations/convenience stores have begun selling and serving booze and have put the machines in their businesses. The businesses are located in Bismarck, Grassy Butte, New Salem and Glen Ullin. Those businesses will be allowed to continue offering the games until the Legislature ultimately decides placement of the machines.

“I’ve never thought of a gas station or convenience store as a bar — that’s not what anybody envisioned,” Wrigley told the panel.

Wrigley warned commissioners that without an immediate definition change, North Dakota would see an explosion of the wildly popular machines, and not enough regulators to keep tabs on them.

“I can’t just go out and hire a bunch of regulators tomorrow,” he said.

Lawmakers approved the games in 2017 but they were not launched until August 2018. There are now more than 4,100 of the machines at some 770 sites around the state. Sioux County, home to a casino on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, is the only one of the state’s 53 counties that does not have the games, McDaniel said.

North Dakotans poured more than $1.3 billion into e-pull tab machines in fiscal 2021, nearly double the amount spent in the previous fiscal year, state data shows.

McDaniel said gamblers are on track to wager $1.8 billion in the machines in fiscal 2022, which ends June 30.

North Dakota’s treasury banked more than $25.5 million in gambling taxes last fiscal year, or nearly double the amount collected in fiscal 2020, and three times the sum in fiscal 2019.

Charities split an estimated $130 million last year, up from nearly $95 million in fiscal 2020, which was a 25% increase from the year before. That money funds everything from youth sports to programs for the needy.

The proliferation and popularity of the games, however, has also raised worries about gambling addiction and the impact on American Indian casinos, which compete for gamblers.