Next month, North Dakota voters will decide whether their state should join with others in a lottery. Proponents say North Dakota is losing money, because all the neighboring states -- and even Canadian provinces -- have lotteries. North Dakota voters have said no to a lottery three times. But it's back on the ballot again.
Noon on a Wednesday is a busy time at the M & H convenience store in Moorhead, Minn. People stop to grab a bite to eat, or fill the car with gas. Many, like Mark Thrall, have crossed the state line. Thrall is from West Fargo in North Dakota, and says he spends $5 a week on Minnesota lottery tickets. It's not much, he says, but he'd rather spend the money in his home state.
"North Dakota is a crazy state," says Thrall. "We got the casinos, we got pull tabs and blackjack. And why they don't have the lottery I don't have a clue."
Mike Brandner has come to M & H Convenience from North Dakota too -- he lives in Fargo. He says North Dakota businesses are the real losers.
"I fill (my car with) gas over here when I come to get my lottery tickets. I wouldn't do (that) otherwise," says Brandner. "The opposition says that it's going to make gambling more popular, and the people that can't afford it will be buying the tickets -- they're already buying them."
The M & H convenience store in Moorhead sells more Minnesota lottery tickets than any other place in the state. Lottery officials say five of the state's top 10 retailers are in Moorhead and East Grand Forks.
"We believe that about $5 million ... is attributed to North Dakota," says George Anderson, director of the Minnesota State Lottery. "Of that, we think $2 million -- maybe a little more -- is Powerball."
North Dakota voters have said "no" to a lottery three times, but that attitude may be changing. North Dakota does allow charitable gambling. Non-profit organizations like museums and theaters are allowed to operate games such as blackjack and pull tabs in bars and restaurants. The operations are regulated by the state.
Lottery supporters say the vote may be different this time because they can prove North Dakota is losing money.
"There was no information (in past elections) to say we were experiencing anything from an economic and financial standpoint," says State Rep. Andy Maragos.
Maragos is spearheading the pro-lottery vote. He says the popularity of lottery ticket sales in Moorhead and East Grand Forks proves there's a healthy market -- a market North Dakota should capture. But Maragos says the state is losing more than just lottery ticket sales.
"It's all the impulse spending that goes along with it," says Maragos. "Simply because consumers are efficient, and they only want to stop once instead of twice, they will do more than one activity with that one stop."
Maragos says a lottery would help merchants and generate tax revenue. Opponents disagree. Former North Dakota Gov. Art Link says a lottery would be a money loser for the state.
"Money spent on a lottery ticket does not support the local economy," says Link. "It doesn't buy a meal, it doesn't buy a pair of gloves, it doesn't do anything for the local economy. It goes into a power pool and immediately most of that money goes out of state."
Link says some people will always think gambling is a bad idea. They worry it will lead to an increase in gambling addiction.
A poll of North Dakota voters shows more than 70 percent support the lottery. Neither side has much money to conduct a media blitz in the last weeks of the campaign. Instead, they'll be out knocking on doors trying to drum up support.More Information