BISMARCK, N.D. - A lawmaker who advocated making North Dakota the first state to license Internet poker companies has been in demand as a speaker on the issue, making trips to Las Vegas, Montreal and the Caribbean island of Antigua this year.
Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, and four other North Dakota legislators went to Antigua for four days earlier this month on what they described as an unofficial trade mission. Their trip was paid for by the Antiguan government, they said.
Antigua licenses Internet poker companies, and Antiguan government statements on the trip focused on North Dakota's potential role in Internet gambling, including the possible use of the state-owned Bank of North Dakota to handle wagers.
Last September, Kasper was a featured speaker at the Casino Affiliate Convention in Las Vegas, which focused on Internet marketing for the gambling industry.
In June, he attended the annual Global Interactive Gaming Summit & Expo in Montreal, a conference organized by the River City Group of St. Charles, Mo. River City's chief executive officer, Sue Schneider, helped lobby for Kasper's Internet poker measure during the 2005 Legislature.
Kasper believes state licensing of poker Web sites is a potentially lucrative source of money for the state treasury, and industry officials who favored his bill said they were eager for U.S. regulation.
"I am not putting away the idea of getting into Internet gaming licenses in North Dakota," Kasper said. "The revenue we missed is too great to pass up."
Nevada and the U.S. Virgin Islands have approved bills allowing for state licensing and regulation of Internet poker sites, but have been wary of following through because of U.S. Justice Department statements that Internet gambling is illegal in the United States.
Kasper and the other four lawmakers who took the Antigua trip said a number of trade possibilities were discussed with government officials.
Fargo Reps. Ron Iverson, Blair Thoreson and Bette Grande and Bismarck Rep. Mark Dosch, all of whom are Republicans, went on the trip with Kasper.
Iverson, Thoreson and Dosch were co-sponsors of Kasper's Internet poker measure, which was approved in the state House before it was defeated, 44-3, in the North Dakota Senate last March.
"I wouldn't say it was for gaming," Grande said of the trip. "Was it part of it? Was it brought up? Yes."
Antigua, a tiny island nation west of the Dominican Republic, has a population of about 69,000 people. It covers 108 square miles, compared to Burleigh County's surface area of 1,633 square miles.
The country's gross national product is about $800 million, compared to North Dakota's gross state product of $21 billion.
North Dakota lawmakers who go on trips sponsored by other individuals, companies or organizations are not required to disclose them.
Sen. April Fairfield, D-Eldridge, introduced legislation this year to require lawmakers to disclose their travel reimbursements, and obtain permission beforehand to make any trip from the chairman of the Legislative Council. Sen. Bob Stenehjem, R-Bismarck, the Senate majority leader, is the council's present chairman.
The travel disclosure requirement was removed from the final version of the bill that the Legislature approved. Instead, the threshold at which a lobbyist must report spending on an individual legislator was increased from $50 to $60, and lobbyists' annual registration fees were raised from $20 to $25.
This article is a reprint from the Grand Forks Herald. If you wish to view the original story, click here.