American online poker players who had the rug ripped out from under them on April 15, 2011 – the Black Friday of Online Poker – found their eyebrows unexpectedly raised later that same year when the US Department of Justice suddenly reversed its opinion of online gambling. What was once staunchly forbidden by the US government was quickly dropped into the hands of individual states to bobble. And with that, from state to state, Americans started paying more attention to their government officials with aspirations that the topic of online poker would positively grace their political desktops. Even in the farthest reaches of the nation, there is some degree of hope for regulated online poker laws in Alaska.
Legality of Online Poker Alaska
Most forms of gambling are, by law, considered criminal activity in Alaska. The legal codes are very strict on gambling in general, although there are a few minor forms of gambling permitted, including bingo and pull tabs. There are no dog or horse racing tracks, although betting on mushers is generally permitted. There isn’t even a single poker room or casino in Alaska. The only way to play poker for real money in this state is to get a group of friends together at one or another’s home and deal the cards yourself, so long as no one is making a profit by hosting the game.
The real question is this; can you play poker over the internet in Alaska? In many states, the laws vary by whether you’re playing in a land based facility or over the world-wide-web. We’ll examine the gambling laws in Alaska as they stand now, as well as any efforts that may be ongoing towards regulating online poker on an intrastate level, as deemed feasible by the DOJ.
Alaska Statutes – Gambling Laws
The Alaska Statute directly prohibits any form of ‘unlawful gambling’, defined as anything “not specifically authorized by law”, with the only plausible defense being that the player took part in a ‘social game’.
The following definitions are taken directly from the Alaska Statutes – Section 11.66.280.
Contest of Chance: means a contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device in which the outcome depends in a material degree upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that the skill of the contestants may also be a factor.
Gambling: means that a person stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under the person’s control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that that person or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.
Gambling Device: means any device, machine, paraphernalia, or equipment that is used or usable in the playing phases of unlawful gambling, whether it consists of gambling between persons or gambling by a person involving the playing of a machine.
Player: means a person who engages in gambling solely as a contestant or bettor, believing that the risk of losing and the chances of winning are the same for all participants except for the advantages of skill and luck, without receiving or becoming entitled to receive any profit from gambling other than personal gambling winnings and without otherwise rendering any material assistance to the establishment, conduct, or operation of the particular gambling activity, except that, for purposes of this paragraph, a person who gambles at a social game on equal terms with the other participants does not “otherwise render material assistance” to the establishment, conduct, or operation by performing, without fee or remuneration, acts directed towards the arrangement or facilitation of the game, such as inviting persons to play, permitting the use of premises for the game, or supplying cards or other equipment used in the game.
Social Game: means gambling in a home where no house player, house bank, or house odds exist and where there is no house income from the operation of the game.
The list of definitions goes on and on, and if you want to view them all, feel free to click the link I’ve provided above, but for the purpose of this article, that should us more than enough information to work with.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Alaska?
Legal terms aren’t the most fluent literature to comprehend, so I’ll make is short and sweet. Yes, it is illegal to play online poker in Alaska. Not because it is directly identified by state law as an illegal activity, but because the laws are written in such a vague fashion that they can easily encompass both land-based and online gambling activities.
Notice in the definition of ‘gambling’, it says “a material degree upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that the skill of the contestants may also be a factor”. That means that in the state of Alaska, the amount of skill involved has no bearing on an activity being considered gambling. So long as there is any degree of chance involved, and a wager at stake, it is gambling. Thus Alaskan online poker players can’t curb the laws by saying it’s not gambling if there is more skill involved than luck, as we saw in the landmark case US v. DiCristina in August of 2012, win which a US district judge ruled that, “Poker is not gambling under IGBA” (Illegal Gambling Business Act) due to the degree of skill involved.
You could argue that the words ‘internet’, remote gambling’ or ‘telecommunications’ were never used in the prohibition of unlawful gambling activities in Alaska, and while the definition of a gambling device may have been written before our time, it is equivocal enough that it could easily encompass online poker and other forms of online gambling, the same as it does any other type of machinery.
Short and sweet, no, you can’t legally play online poker for real money in Alaska.
It should be noted, however, that there isn’t a single known case in the state of Alaska involving online gambling as an offense. It certainly doesn’t seem to be one of their more enforceable laws, if any authoritative body is actually scrutinizing such activity to begin with.
If we alter the question from “is it legal to play online poker in Alaska” to a more broad version of “do online poker rooms accept players from Alaska”, the answer changes quite drastically. There are a number of reputable online poker sites that accept customers from Alaska. Residents of the Last Frontier are welcome to join, deposit, play and request withdrawals just like anyone else.
Is Alaska working to legalize online poker?
Unfortunately, this is another short-and sweet answer, and it’s not a positive one. No, there has been no interest from Alaskan politicians regarding the regulation of online poker. Although Alaska is the largest US state, it’s ranked 47th in population with an estimated 731,449 residents as of 2012. Too few residents, an abysmal broadband internet status and a government that frowns upon just about every gambling activity known to mankind isn’t exactly the amalgamation for a successful online poker industry.