On Friday, September 5, a federal judge ruled that an Idaho tribe was not able to present poker games on its Native American reservation due to the fact that poker games were not legal in the state of Idaho. The Coeur d’Alene tribe was ordered to cease all poker tournaments indefinitely. The ruling has raised eyebrows in California, where the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel is preparing to implement real money games in its online poker room, PrivateTable, in the very near future.
The state of Idaho brought a case against the local tribe stating that only gambling amusements authorized by the state may be played at a tribal casino. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill stated in a 24-page assessment of the case that “Idaho’s constitution plainly prohibits all forms of gambling other than the three listed exceptions.”
The Idaho Constitution, under Section 20, Gambling Prohibited clearly states:
(1) Gambling is contrary to public policy and is strictly prohibited except for the following:
a. A state lottery…
b. Pari-mutuel betting…
c. Bingo and raffle games that are operated by qualified charitable organizations…
(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.
The Coeur d’Alene tribe argued that poker is not a “banked” card game and therefore is a game of skill, not chance. Games of chance fall under the prohibited Class III category, whereas skill games are considered Class II. However, Idaho law defines Class III gambling as having an “element” of chance, not pure chance, thus the federal judge agreed that poker is categorically a Class III gaming activity in Idaho.
To clarify the matter, let’s take a look at a 2007 publication by the Idaho State Bar in The Advocate, which asked and answered the following question:
Why Do Only Some Tribes Offer Table and Card Games?
A tribe can offer any and all forms of gaming otherwise authorized in the state where the tribe is located. To offer any additional gaming, or class III gaming like table games and card games against the house, the tribe must obtain the consent of the state in the form of a compact. The National Indian Gaming Commission must also approve the compact.
By this resolution, if the Coeur d’Alene did not receive prior consent from the state to offer poker tournaments, which fall under the Class III Gaming category, they are not permitted to offer them on the reservation. Only state authorized, Class II Gaming can be offered.
The ruling raised many questions about the impending launch of real money online poker by the Santa Ysabel tribe in California. Poker journalist Martin Shapiro noted on Twitter that the Idaho poker ruling could lead to California bypassing the National Indian Gaming Commission (NGIC) and going directly to a federal court for a ruling on the tribe’s eligibility to offer real money online poker in California. However, poker is not illegal in California, thus any argument that could be posed would have to be a completely different one.
Bluff Magazine’s Steve Ruddock suggested that the primary issue to be debated would be whether online gambling occurs at the server. Martin Owens, attorney for the Santa Ysabel, replied that, “The worldwide standard of Internet gambling jurisdiction was established in 2005 with the passage of the Gambling Act in the UK, and ratified by the legislation of Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware when they licensed Internet gambling in their own jurisdictions in 2013. The bet takes place at the location of the gambling business’s server and nowhere else…”