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BISMARCK – Three weeks after approving the licensing of Internet poker sites, the North Dakota House has endorsed a state constitutional amendment to allow the idea to proceed, despite arguments that the game is a fad.

“Right now, (poker players are) playing in an unregulated industry that, if they wanted to, this industry could cheat them,” said Rep. Ron Iverson, R-Fargo. “If we regulate it, we’ll get the benefits of regulation of that industry.”

Representatives voted 50-44 Tuesday to approve the amendment, which now goes to the North Dakota Senate for its review. The Legislature may only put amendments on the ballot; voters must agree to make them part of the constitution.

No other state licenses Internet poker sites, and critics of the amendment noted U.S. Justice Department statements that Internet gambling is illegal.

“I am not opposed to gaming, but this is different,” Rep. Kari Conrad, D-Minot, said during the House debate. “All of the other gaming that we have considered has been within the realm of possibility. This is not.”

The amendment’s supporters argued it is better for North Dakota government to regulate Internet poker than to leave players unprotected, and they said federal courts have ruled that a key federal anti-gambling law, called the Wire Act, does not ban Internet poker.

The amendment adds one sentence to Article 11, Section 25 of the constitution: “The legislative assembly shall authorize Internet live poker, located in the state, and licensed and regulated by the state.”

It is an exemption to the constitution’s general ban on gambling, which bars the Legislature from authorizing “any game of chance, lottery or gift enterprises, under any pretense, for any purpose whatsoever.” Powerball and other multistate lottery games, as well as gambling operations run by charities, also are exempt.

Feb. 16, the House voted 49-43 to approve separate legislation that would authorize and regulate North Dakota-based Internet poker sites, tax their revenues and charge them fees for the players they host.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on that measure Tuesday. Industry officials lined up to support it, calling it an incentive for Internet poker operations to relocate to North Dakota.

The amendment, which is necessary before the bill may take effect, survived despite a vigorous effort on the House floor to defeat it. More about Agen Poker Online

“The people who drafted this constitution spent a lot of time on it. They put a lot of thought into it. And now, we are being asked to … write into our constitution what is essentially nothing more than a fad – Internet poker,” said Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck.

Rep. Dorvan Solberg, D-Ray, said North Dakotans already have plenty of avenues for gambling – lottery games, bingo halls, casinos on American Indian reservations and gambling operations run by North Dakota charities.