For gambling enthusiasts, there are few better places to live than Montana. From north to south, east to west, the state is teeming with wagering opportunities, including 5 horse racing tracks for pari-mutuel betting and 60+ casino gambling facilities, more than half a dozen of which proffer live poker tables. Suffice it to say, living in or around Montana is great for anyone who likes to toss chips atop the felt.
What about those who prefer playing poker over the internet? Are there any online poker laws in Montana that permit or prohibit such activities? This has become a very common question across the United States, and while we aren’t professional lawyers with degrees in the study of legal jargon, we are determined to answer that question to the best of our educated abilities by examining the Constitution of Montana as it pertains to gambling. As always, for a 100% accurate response, we suggest consulting with a local authority on the matter; preferably one that passed the bar exam.
Legality of Online Poker Montana
Montana has a vivid past in regards to gambling. After having an outright ban on all conceivable gambling activities from the moment the very first state constitution was inked in 1889, Montana became one of the first US states to legalize gambling in 1939. That lasted for over a decade before utter prohibition returned in the 1950’s, but 20 years later, voters made it clear that they wanted to gamble, and legislators heard their voices. As such, since the 1970’s, most forms of gambling are widely accepted in Big Sky Country.
Once the next big wave of gambling hit via the internet, most states refused to recognize it, assuming it was the federal government’s job to handle such matters. Montana, on the other hand, actually updated its gambling laws to include a definition for the term “internet gambling”, which directly correlates with the legal system’s ability to either permit or criminalize the activity. In order to determine whether that effects online poker games, we will carefully scrutinize the verbiage of Montana’s laws.
Montana Code – Gambling
Title 23, Chapter 5 of the Montana Code (Annotated 2013) deals directly with all things related to gambling. The following quotes are taken from that scripture. Note that some text may be abridged to maintain relevancy to the topic of online poker, but the overall meaning has not been changed.
Gambling/Gambling Activity: means risking any… thing of value for a gain that is contingent in whole or in part upon lot, chance, or the operation of a gambling device or gambling enterprise. [Does not refer to promotional games of chance, amusement games or social card games.]
Illegal Gambling Device: means a gambling device not specifically authorized by statute or by the rules of the department. The term includes:
(b) an apparatus, implement, or device, by whatever name known, specifically designed to be used in conducting an illegal gambling enterprise, including a faro box, faro layout, roulette wheel, roulette table, craps table, or slot machine, except as provided in 23-5-153.
Illegal Gambling Enterprise: means a gambling enterprise that violates or is not specifically authorized by a statute or a rule of the department. The term includes:
(a) a card game, by whatever name known, involving any bank or fund from which a participant may win money or other consideration and that receives money or other consideration lost by the participant…
(b) a dice game, by whatever name known, in which a participant wagers on the outcome of the roll of one or more dice…
(c) sports betting, by whatever name known, in which a person places a wager on the outcome of an athletic event… [excludes authorized pari-mutuel betting]
(d) credit gambling; and
(e) internet gambling.
Internet Gambling: by whatever name known, includes but is not limited to the conduct of any legal or illegal gambling enterprise through the use of communications technology that allows a person using money, paper checks, electronic checks, electronic transfers of money, credit cards, debit cards, or any other instrumentality to transmit to a computer information to assist in the placing of a bet or wager and corresponding information related to the display of the game, game outcomes, or other similar information.
(1) A person who in an activity involving gambling offers or obtains money, property, or anything of value that does not exceed $750 in value by misrepresentation, fraud, or the use of an illegal gambling device or an illegal gambling enterprise is guilty of a misdemeanor…
(2) A person who in an activity involving gambling offers or obtains money, property, or anything of value that exceeds $750 in value by misrepresentation, fraud, or the use of an illegal gambling device or an illegal gambling enterprise is guilty of a felony…
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Montana?
Unfortunately, online poker is clearly illegal in Montana. Internet gambling is included in the definition of an illegal gambling enterprise, which prohibits any gambling activity that “is not specifically authorized by a statute or a rule of the department”. Since internet gambling, nor online poker specifically, are authorized by the state, they are therefore illegal by default. One could not even attempt to argue that poker is a game of skill, as opposed to chance, since the definition of gambling explicitly includes betting on something that is determined “in whole or in part… upon chance, or the operation of a gambling device or gambling enterprise”.
Is Montana working to regulate online poker?
Law makers have yet to even draft any online poker laws in Montana in regards to legalization or regulation, much less push them through the house or senate towards the governor’s desk. For the moment, they seem to be ignoring the issue altogether. However, knowing that Montana is perfectly keen on the idea of filling its state coffers with gambling tax revenue, having more than 1,600 licensed gambling operators contributing to that fund, it is ostensible that once online poker is regulated on a federal level, allowing interstate access to player bases, Montana will eventually acquiesce to online poker regulation. But it could be at least another year before that issue hits the table, and perhaps longer before the state actually passes the necessary legislation.