Important ID Notes
- Citizens from ID can legally play at offshore poker rooms
- iGaming will be tough with state’s anti-gambling stance
- Land-based poker rooms are not legal in Idaho
- Tribal casinos, lotteries, and horse racing are legal
- Court denied a Tribal casino from opening a poker room
- 0 never
Like many states in the US, operating an online poker business is illegal in Idaho. The Gem State, which is particularly unfriendly to any form of poker, does not have any framework in place that would see online poker becoming a reality in the near future, nor does it have any laws in the pipeline that could see a regulated and legalized industry take shape. There is no platform which licenses online gambling operators of any type. Idahoans continue to play legally at offshore online poker rooms for play or real money.
Future Outlook of Online Poker in Idaho – Estimated date of legalization: 2019-2020
The following graph tracks our expected legislation of online poker in Idaho on a state law level. It is currently already legal on a Federal level. This graph monitors the current rise or fall of expected legalization.
While the State of Idaho is not closed to all forms of gambling, it can be said that there is no reason to believe that online poker will become available to players in the near or distant future. The State Constitution makes a strong case against the game of poker, and on this basis alone, lawmakers don’t seem to be falling over their feet in a bid to introduce legislation that will put the state in line with those that have already welcomed change like Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey.
While the current law does not make specific mention of online poker or gambling, the Constitution nevertheless uses language that could certainly be applied to these activities. Section 20(2) states:
“No activities permitted by subsection (1) shall employ any form of casino gambling including, but not limited to, blackjack, craps, roulette, poker, baccarat, keno and slot machines, or employ any electronic or electromechanical imitation or simulation of any form of casino gambling.”
It is difficult to predict whether Idaho will ever open its doors to online poker since the market is so dynamic, but current prominent characters in the industry don’t seem to be too optimistic.
In January 2012, following a change of decision by the United States Department of Justice regarding the 1961 Wire Act that the act only applies to sports betting and not other forms of online gambling, the executive director of the Idaho State Lottery, Jeff Anderson, commented to the Idaho Reporter [A] on the issue and said that there are no plans to even suggest looking into the matter. Anderson noted that if the issue of online gambling were to be considered in the state, other facets of the lottery system would need to be taken care of.
“It depends on how it would be structured”, Anderson is quoted as saying. “We want to make sure that we’re sensitive to the brick and mortar retail network for the basic scratch games. And, we would need legislative and the governor’s approval and we have not suggested that we go down that path in Idaho. But, we do support states’ rights for those that wish to do so.”
Another personality who commented on the DOJ’s change of opinion and the impact on Idaho, Rep. Vito Berbiera (R-Dalton Gardens), said that the current environment in the state made the likelihood of online gambling becoming a reality in the state slim – at least in the near future.
“I don’t think it is possible in Idaho, at least not in the present (political) environment”, Berbiera is quoted as saying in 2012. “I would look at it closely to see if it would be something that I would support. But I don’t see, at least for this coming session, that popping up. It seems to me there are too many other issues right now that have got the Legislature pretty much involved and I don’t think that online gambling is going to be something that will come up this session.”
Since Berbiera’s statement, no moves have been made to introduce any type of legislation in Idaho’s channels of law. The lawmaker did not rule out online poker legislation in the future altogether, however, and said: “The thing that militates for doing that (online gambling) is the state’s desperation for funds, and their ability to tax those winnings. So, it could be that the issue would have to come up as the state continues to look for new resources to fund bureaucracies. It’s not something that you would definitely want to write off in the future, but I would say it won’t happen in the present environment.”
Finally, Rep. Marv Hagedorn for Meridian, Idaho has stated that Idaho should not rush to follow in the footsteps of other states who have adopted online gambling. He said that the state is able to tap into additional revenue without resorting to online gambling. “Idaho needs to have a revenue source that is not a ‘me too’ type of business”, he said. “We have the potential for natural gas production royalties that could substantially add to our state revenue helping offset income and sales taxes in the future. We need to think outside the box and not follow the crowd in how we look for revenue needed to provide for constitutional state services.”
History of Gambling in Idaho
Land Based Poker in Idaho
Authorities in Idaho allow certain types of gambling but, unfortunately, poker is not one of them. The law governing the game of poker in the state is same which governs gambling in general, and does not make a distinction between games of skill and games of chance. Moreover, the game of poker is expressly mentioned as a no-no, leaving very little options for fans of the game.
Section 18-3801 defines gambling (and, therefore, by default, poker) as, “risking any money, credit, deposit or other 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.”
So what happens to anyone caught playing poker illegally in Idaho? Those caught engaging in a poker game will face misdemeanor charges, as will operators of the game.
One of the most famous poker-related arrests in Idaho [B] (which are few and far between) happened in March 2010 when police raided the Idaho Twin Falls Senior Center and busted the game being played by a group of twenty retirees in their weekly poker game. The group had been meeting for five years every Friday to play Texas Hold ’em, wagering a few dollars each time. However, the police decided to enact an outdated law that makes it an offense if a prosecutor does not investigate or prosecute a gambling allegation.
The public outcry against the raid was huge, leading State Senator Kate Kelly (D-Boise) to sponsor a measure that would allow prosecutors to use discretion when investigating gambling reports. At the time, Kelly said: “We have elected prosecutors in Idaho, and they make decisions every day about whether or not to pursue a particular defendant or whether or not to pursue a particular act. And I think we can support that rather than exposing them to be subject to a crime for failing to prosecute.” The law passed 34-1 in the Senate and 69-1 in the House.
Gambling Laws in Idaho
Despite its tough stance towards poker, Idaho is not virgin territory when it comes to other forms of gambling. The Constitution allows the operation of a state run lottery, while pari-mutuel wagering is also allowed. There is no exception for social gambling in Idaho, although, as noted in the section Land Based Poker in Idaho, there have been practically no reported arrests for social gambling games. The law allows charitable gambling such as bingo and raffles.
Indian casinos offer s small range of gambling pastimes, limited to Class 2 slots. General gambling laws in Idaho are governed by Section 18-3801 as detailed above in Land Based Poker in Idaho. Players need to be at least 18 years of age to wager at a casino or play bingo in the Gem State.
There are 13 casinos and pari-mutuel facilities in Idaho, spread out across the US’s 14th largest state. In addition, players can visit Jackpot, Nevada, located 45 miles south of Twin Falls. An anecdotal tale regarding the town of Jackpot, is that it was set up in 1954 when the state outlawed slot machines and gambling personalities, “Cactus Pete” Piersanti and Don French moved their operations to Nevada instead.
There are four Idaho Tribal Regulatory Agencies, namely the Coeur D’Alene Tribal Gaming Board, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho Gaming Commission, the Nez Perce Tribal Gaming Commission and the Shoshone-Bannock Gaming Commission.
Some of the larger casino establishments in Idaho include:
Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel [C] – the biggest gaming property in Idaho which operates 24 hours a day. The casino boasts 1,600 video gaming machines on its 60,000 square feet gaming floor and over 1,000 jackpot winners each month. The casino also runs an active bingo hall with electronic bingo machines, open most days of the week.
The Clearwater River Casino and Lodge – features non smoking and smoking casino floors with over 600 video machines. The 24/7 gambling establishment offers a wide range of games, including video poker, video blackjack, keno and slots, as well as progressive slots which offer Million Dollar jackpots. All in all, there are over 600 games to choose from at this casino.
Idaho allows horse race betting and simulcast wagering at nine different locations across the state, including the Cassia County Fairgrounds, the Eastern Idaho State Fairgrounds, the Emmett Race Track, Jerome Racing, Les Bois Park, Oneida County Fair, Pocatello Downs, Rupert Downs and Sandy Downs.
Racing in Idaho is controlled and regulated by the Idaho State Racing Commission [D], a self-funded agency which derives its revenues from fees collected from licenses, pari-mutuels and simulcasting (under Idaho Statute 54-2515).
A Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe is wanting to shutdown betting machines at several of the state’s racetracks because they believe the machines are operating too similar to slot machines. The Senate had voted 25-9 to repeal the betting machines, but Governor Butch Otter vetoed the bill. The tribe fought the case as best as possible but the Supreme Court overruled the governor’s veto and declared the machines illegal.
Racing rules can be found here [E].
Idaho is one of the many states in the US that opted into the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act [F], which effectively outlaws sports betting across the country, except for a handful (Oregon, Delaware and Montana). As such, it is illegal to wager on sports in Idaho.
The issue of an Idaho lottery was voted on for the first time in 1986, but it took two more years (and a Supreme Court ruling) to finally see the first ticket sold on July 19th, 1989. According to the Idaho Lottery [G], its mission is to “responsibly provide entertaining games with a high degree of integrity to maximize the dividends for public schools and buildings.” Dividends are shared between the Permanent Building Fund and the Public School Building Account. The state governor appoints the five member Lottery Commission, which adopts rules for the agency and monitors all operations.
Lottery wins of over $5,000 pay a 25% federal tax rate as well as a 7.4% state tax rate. Anybody over the age of 18 may purchase a ticket sold by the Idaho Lottery. Tickets are only sold through retail lottery stores and the lottery makes a point of stating that “state and federal laws prohibit the sale of lottery tickets through the internet…” Players have 180 days from the draw date to claim their prize.
The Idaho Lottery offers draw games such as Powerball and Mega Millions, as well as scratch cards.
Certain types of charitable gambling are allowed under the state law, including the conducting of bingos and raffles by charitable or non-profit organizations. The law strictly forbids other activities such as poker runs, casino nights and ‘Calucutta’s. The law defines a raffle as, “game in which the prize is run by random drawing of the name or number of one or more persons purchasing chances.” Section 67, title 77 of the Idaho code defines certain charitable organizations who may conduct raffles. However, any entity is allowed to hold a drawing as long as anyone can request or receive a ticket without making a direct purchase of any kind.
Applications for a charitable or non-profit bingo/raffle license can be made through the Charitable Gaming [H] Coordinator at the Idaho Lottery which regulates charitable gaming in Idaho. According to the lottery, “the operation of bingo games or raffles shall be the direct responsibility of, and controlled by, a special committee selected by the governing body of the charitable or non-profit organization. If the governing body has not appointed a special committee, the members of the governing body shall be held responsible for the conduct of the bingo games or raffles.” Initial licenses cost $100, renewable each year.
Under 18 years old may not play bingo games that have a prize of more than $25. Bingo is defined under Idaho Code 67-7702 as a traditional game of chance that is played for a prize that is determined prior to the start of the game.
Author: Joseph Falchetti (twitter)
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