North Dakota's Big Gamble

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North Dakota's Big Gamble

FARGO, N.D. -- Lottery supporters in North Dakota hit the jackpot at the polls last week, strongly approving an amendment that allows the state to participate in a multistate lottery such as Powerball. Official returns showed 63 percent of North Dakotans backed the measure with 146,518 votes in favor to 84,249 against.

South Fargo resident Joanne Peterson was one of those who voted for the change. Peterson said she rarely buys lottery tickets herself, but she believes a lottery could generate more money for North Dakota's treasury. "I think it could bring a lot of revenue in to the state," Peterson said.

Brad Graber voted against the measure, saying the money it would bring was not worth the potential social problems caused by more gambling. He called the lottery a "gimmick," arguing that lawmakers should raise revenue from taxes instead of gambling promotion.

Supporters said the game would bring the state at least $13 million every two years, and they pointed to high lottery sales in border cities as evidence North Dakotans want to play, according to the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald.

Opponents argued the revenue claims were exaggerated and could lead to more problems of compulsive gambling.

An analysis found that to raise the $13 million every two years, North Dakotans would need to buy almost three times as many Powerball tickets per person as people do in South Dakota, and spend 80 percent more on the game each year than an average Minnesotan does.

North Dakota already has some types of gambling. Many charities run bingo, blackjack and pull-tab games, and the state's five American Indian reservations have casinos.

Voters have turned down three lottery initiatives since the mid-1980s, including a 1996 amendment that would have allowed a statewide lottery along with video gambling machines in bars and restaurants that served liquor. The proposal was rejected by 69 percent of the voters.