Gambling has been commonplace in Minnesota since early settlers first began mingling with the local Native American tribes. Even when prohibition struck in the 1850s, gamblers continued to pursue their pastime underground. When the state brought gambling back in mid-1900s, pari-mutuel racing tracks and tribal casinos flourished across the Gopher State. As modern technology progressed, online poker gaming filtered its way into Minnesota, but the US government stifled the industry in 2011. That’s not to say that Minnesotans are no longer playing online poker, but many of them are rightfully curious as to whether online poker laws are in place to criminalize the activity.
Legality of Online Poker Minnesota
Minnesota is home to a vast number of gambling destinations. There are currently 17 tribal casinos and 2 racetracks / card rooms speckling the map. The state laws are particularly friendly towards games of bingo and pull-tabs, but not so much towards general casino gambling, unless its conducted in a tribal casino venue or one of the highly limited ‘racinos’ licensed and regulated by the state.
To determine whether online poker is textually unlawful by Minnesota state law, we’ll examine the statutes as they relate to various forms of gambling, both legal and illegal. We’ll also take a moment to discuss the potential for future regulation of online poker in Minnesota.
2013 Minnesota Statutes – Lawful Gambling
Chapter 609 of the Minnesota Statutes deals directly with all forms of lawful and unlawful gambling and enforceable penalties. Use the link above if you’d like to peruse the full text for yourself, or read on below for an abridged version of the relative gambling legislation.
The following excerpts have been taken from the text as they may pertain to online poker laws in Minnesota.
Bet: A bet is a bargain whereby the parties mutually agree to a gain or loss by one to the other of specified money, property or benefit dependent upon chance although the chance is accompanied by some element of skill.
What are not bets: The following are not bets:
(1) a contract to insure, indemnify, guarantee or otherwise compensate another for a harm or loss sustained, even though the loss depends upon chance;
(2) a contract for the purchase or sale at a future date of securities or other commodities;
(3) offers of purses, prizes or premiums to the actual contestants in any bona fide contest for the determination of skill, speed, strength, endurance, or quality or to the bona fide owners of animals or other property entered in such a contest;
(4) the game of bingo when conducted in compliance with sections 349.11 to 349.23;
(5) a private social bet not part of or incidental to organized, commercialized, or systematic gambling;
(6) the operation of equipment or the conduct of a raffle under sections 349.11 to 349.22, by an organization licensed by the Gambling Control Board or an organization exempt from licensing under section 349.166;
(7) pari-mutuel betting on horse racing when the betting is conducted under chapter 240; and
(8) the purchase and sale of state lottery tickets under chapter 349A.
Game: A game means any game played with cards, dice, equipment, or any mechanical or electronic device or machine for money or other value, whether or not approved by law, and includes, but is not limited to: card and dice games of chance, slot machines, banking or percentage games, video games of chance, sports pools, pari-mutuel betting, and race book. “Game” does not include any private social bet.
Authorized Gambling Activity: An authorized gambling activity means any form of gambling authorized by and operated in conformance with law.
Authorized Gambling Establishment: An authorized gambling establishment means any premises where gambling authorized by law is occurring.
Whoever does any of the following is guilty of a misdemeanor:
(1) makes a bet;
Subd. 4. Certain devices prohibited.
(a) Whoever uses or possesses a probability-calculating or outcome-affecting device at an authorized gambling establishment is guilty of a felony.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Minnesota?
Instead of defining what gambling methods are illegal in Minnesota, the laws are designed to criminalize any form of gambling that is not explicitly legal. Under the definition of a bet, we also see what is not considered a bet, which are all wagers made on state authorized bingo games, raffles, pari-mutuel betting, lottery tickets and social gambling (i.e. home poker games where no one profits except as being a player). That means that everything else which involves a bet is illegal, according to 609.755, which labels betting as a misdemeanor crime.
Notice the last segment, 609.76, in which using any type of probability-calculating device is not just illegal, but a felony crime. We pointed this out because a lot of online poker players make use of odds calculators and poker tracking software with HUD (heads-up display) availability. Playing online poker may be a misdemeanor, but using software such as this to play online poker in Minnesota could actually increase the charge to a felony.
When you combine all of this information together, the simple fact that online poker (or land-based poker, for that matter) is not explicitly permitted (unless authorized by the state), makes it illegal in Minnesota. As always, we advise speaking to a legal authority with better knowledge of deciphering legal jargon for a 100% accurate view of the laws, but in our opinion, online poker is illegal in Minnesota.
Is Minnesota working to regulate online poker?
There are no official discussions on the table in Minnesota regarding the legalization and regulation of online poker. However – being open to some forms of gambling in a brick-and-mortar establishment, and obviously acquiesce to the idea of collecting tax dollars from gambling businesses – as the online gambling market gains impetus throughout the United States, Minnesota is likely to follow suit. It could be several years before that happens, but in the long-term, odds are on favor for online poker regulation in the Gopher State.