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North Dakota a Gambling Haven?

Outside the Beltway, way out there in flyover land on the prairies of North Dakota, not all Republicans are lining up to support U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's call to ban Internet gambling.

In fact, North Dakota State Rep. Jim Kasper says, "My fellow Republicans just don't get it" when it comes to Internet gambling.

In July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, which updates the 1961 Wire Act banning sports wagering over the telephone to include all forms of online gambling.

Frist (R-Tenn.) wants the Senate to approve the same legislation in the waning days of the 109th Congress.

Kasper calls the proposal "ridiculous."

"The people of our nation want to do what they want to do in the privacy of their living rooms," Kasper told internetnews.com.

Contrary to the intent of his national party leaders, North Dakota will become a safe harbor for Internet poker players worldwide if Kasper has his way.

Kasper plans to introduce bills in the next session of the North Dakota legislature legalizing Internet poker for online casinos that will bring their software, hardware and employees to North Dakota.

The proposal is strictly limited to online poker in hopes of avoiding the controversy swirling around sports betting on the Internet.

The casinos will have to use North Dakota's state-owned bank as a measure to protect gamblers' money and safeguard against money laundering.

Software mandates, Kasper claims, will provide age-verification protections and allow the state to monitor for individuals exhibiting addictive behavior.

In return for North Dakota sanctioning and regulating online poker, casino operators will pay taxes on gross revenues that will be used to reduce property taxes.

"[The casinos] will be able to do business worldwide except where it is expressly prohibited," he said. "These are computer-based companies that provide an Internet service."

And the federal government should "keep its nose out of it. Gambling is a states' rights issue. Congress shouldn't be regulating it."

Kasper contends Congress has the right to prevent crime but not to stop online Texas Hold'em sessions.

North Dakota, he said, should be allowed to tap into the "tremendous revenue stream leaving our nation."

Even under the U.S. House legislation, state-sanctioned online gambling on horse racing and lotteries is permitted.

For Kasper, this will be his second time trying to convince his fellow North Dakota lawmakers to see it his way.

In 2005, his proposal passed -- barely -- in the state house before overwhelmingly failing in the state Senate.

Kasper said he was forced to fold his legislative hand when the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) "unfairly" interfered in North Dakota's legislative process.

"The DoJ wrote what I call a 'poison pill' letter [to North Dakota's attorney general]," he said. "It had misinformation about the Wire Act, implying it applies to all Internet gambling."

If it does, Kasper wants to know why the House felt compelled to pass legislation extending the Wire Act to Internet gambling.

"The Wire Act was specifically written to prohibit sports wagering over the telephone," he said.

When the North Dakota attorney general publicly released the letter, Kasper said he was "unable to successfully battle the DoJ."

Even if Frist is able to maneuver the House bill through the Senate and President Bush signs the legislation expanding the Wire Act to Internet gaming, Kasper swears he will crack open a fresh deck and still introduce his bill.

"I believe in a court of law we'll win," he said. "People don't want the Internet police in their living rooms."