Idaho – The Gem State – the 14th largest state in the US by mass, but 39th in terms of population. It’s the native land of legendary author Ernest Hemingway, politician Sarah Palin and Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street. It’s also home to an innumerable amount of poker playing enthusiasts who are all wondering the same question – is it now, or will it ever be, legal to play online poker in Idaho?
If you’ve been following the online poker industry for the last seven years, you are well aware that the United States once made incredible efforts to prevent online gambling of any kind from coast to coast. The passage of the UIGEA in 2006 made it illegal for payment processors to transfer funds between American players and offshore online poker sites. In 2011, the US government indicted three of the largest online poker operators in the world, causing a mass blackout of internet poker in America known as Black Friday (April 15, 2011).
If that weren’t enough to leave a nation reeling, the DOJ further stunned American online poker fans when it reversed its previous ruling that online poker and other gambling over the world wide web were outlawed via the Federal Wire Act of 1961. In December of 2011, the DOJ declared that online gambling was not prohibited by federal law and that individual states could choose for themselves whether they wanted to regulate online poker. Like residents of most US states, many Idahoans are waiting with baited breath for state officials to declare the legalities of online poker in Idaho.
Legality of Online Poker Idaho
The Constitution of Idaho strictly prohibits most forms of gambling in brick-and-mortar establishments. This is not to say that casinos don’t exist on a legal basis. There are, in fact, 5 casino gambling operations in the state, but they are all tribal casinos, located on Native American reservations; perfectly legal under state guidelines. Idaho law also permits a limited amount of pari-mutuel wagering within its borders and runs its own state lottery. Charitable gambling on raffles and bingo games are also permissible, so long as they follow the proper framework.
In the next section, we will review the laws of Idaho in regards to poker and gambling in general. Then we will attempt to decipher the meaning of those laws and how they pertain to real money online poker games. Finally, we’ll discuss any maneuvers to legalize and regulate online poker in Idaho.
Constitution of Idaho – Gambling Prohibition
The follow text is taken directly from the Constitution of the State of Idaho, Article 3, Section 20.
(1) Gambling is contrary to public policy and is strictly prohibited except for the following:
a. A state lottery which is authorized by the state if conducted in conformity with enabling legislation; and
b. Pari-mutuel betting if conducted in conformity with enabling legislation; and
c. Bingo and raffle games that are operated by qualified charitable organizations in the pursuit of charitable purposes if conducted in conformity with enabling legislation.
(2) No activities permitted by subsection (1) shall employ any form of casino gambling including, but not limited to, blackjack, craps, roulette, poker, bacarrat, keno and slot machines, or employ any electronic or electromechanical imitation or simulation of any form of casino gambling.
(3) The legislature shall provide by law penalties for violations of this section.
(4) Notwithstanding the foregoing, the following are not gambling and are not prohibited by this section:
a. Merchant promotional contests and drawings conducted incidentally to bona fide nongaming business operations, if prizes are awarded without consideration being charged to participants; and
b. Games that award only additional play.
This next piece is taken from Title 18, Chapter 38, Section 18, Sub-section 3801. Note that some text has been omitted to sustain fluency without altering the meaning.
“Gambling” means risking any… thing of value for gain contingent in whole or in part upon lot, chance, the operation of a gambling device or the happening or outcome of an event, including a sporting event, the operation of casino gambling including, but not limited to, blackjack, craps, roulette, poker, bacarrat [baccarat] or keno, but does not include:
(1) Bona fide contests of skill, speed, strength or endurance in which awards are made only to entrants or the owners of entrants…
(1) A person is guilty of gambling if he:
(a) Participates in gambling; or
(b) Knowingly permits any gambling to be played, conducted or dealt upon or in any real or personal property owned, rented, or under the control of the actor, whether in whole or in part.
(2) Gambling is a misdemeanor.
There is plenty more reading you can do in the constitution regarding gambling laws in the state, but those listed above pertain most closely to our topic of whether online poker is legal in Idaho. Please use the links provided above to explore the text in further detail if you wish.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Idaho?
It’s difficult to define the legality of online poker in Idaho simply because the laws are so antiquated and written in such a vague context. Poker is specifically mentioned as being illegal, but then games of “skill” are omitted from the prohibition of gambling. One could argue that poker is a legitimate game of skill, but whether that would get you anywhere in a court of law is another matter. One could also argue that playing “online” is not specified as being illegal, but there’s every chance that a judge would rule that the term “gambling device” encompasses the use of computers, laptops, mobile devices, tablets, etc. when used to gamble.
What we do know is that no one in Idaho has ever been charged with illegal online gambling, and that countless Idahoans continue to play online poker at regulated offshore gaming sites. As to whether it’s truly legal to do so in Idaho; it would take a certified law practitioner to answer that question.
Is Idaho working to regulate online poker?
Unfortunately, the topic of online poker has yet to surface among law makers in Idaho. Being that some limited forms of gambling are regulated in the state, the subject could easily arise now that other territories are closely examining the issue, if not moving forward with relative regulation. But for now, it’s a waiting game with no estimable timeline to speak of.