Idaho Online Poker Laws and Legalities

Idaho may be one of the larger states in the US, coming in 14th in landmass, but it’s vast agricultural industry and mountainous terrain results in one of the lowest population densities, ranked 39th most populous with just 1,595,728 (est. 2013). Idaho is known for its potatoes and an abundance of gemstones, where miners have found every variety of prized stone known to man; hence its nickname, the Gem State. What it’s not known for is the deregulation of gambling. The only legal land-based casinos in Idaho are of the Native American variety. In terms of the law, this article aims to find out what that means for online poker players in Idaho.

Land-based Gambling in Idaho

If a state doesn’t play host to licensed casino destinations, it’s a good bet that gambling is considered an illegal activity (outside of tribal casino facilities, legitimized by the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988). There are seven Native American casinos in Idaho, but no state-authorized locations. Idaho has been running its own state-wide lottery since 1986 and offers licenses for bingo and raffle games as well as pari-mutuel wagering on horse and greyhound races, but traditional casino gambling is off the menu in the brick-and-mortar sense.

As far as real money online poker games go, we’ll have to examine the Gem State’s explicit gambling laws to determine whether the activity can be considered legal, illegal or somewhere in the middle.

Deciphering the Laws of Idaho as they relate to Online Poker

Below are excerpts from the Constitution of the State of Idaho and the Idaho Statutes that could pertain to the legalities of online poker. Each is followed by a brief interpretation.

Section Text Meaning (in re online poker)
Idaho Constitution Article III, Sec. 20 Gambling Prohibited (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.

Only pari-mutuel racebooks, bingo halls, raffle drawings and the Idaho State Lottery are accepted forms of gambling, and only then if they are properly licensed and authorized by the state.
(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. Poker is explicitly proscribed in Idaho, whether it’s in a natural form or played by the use of any electronic simulation (i.e. online poker software on a computer or mobile device).
Idaho Statutes 18-3801 Gambling Defined “Gambling” means 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, 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; or

(2)  Bona fide business transactions which are valid under the law of contracts; or

(3)  Games that award only additional play; or

(4)  Merchant promotional contests and drawings conducted incidentally to bona fide nongaming business operations, if prizes are awarded without consideration being charged to participants; or

(5)  Other acts or transactions now or hereafter expressly authorized by law.

If played for real money or anything else of value, poker is a form of gambling, and thereby deemed unlawful.
Idaho Statutes 18-3802 Gambling Prohibited (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.

Participating in any unauthorized form of gambling is illegal. Note the conjunction between parts (a) and (b) is “or”. Simply gambling on an unauthorized activity is illegal, whether it’s ‘knowingly’ conducted in a physical ‘property’ or not.
(2)  Gambling is a misdemeanor. The penalty for gambling in Idaho is up to 6 months in jail and/or up to $1,000 fine.


Is Online Poker Illegal in Idaho?

Yes. Despite the terms online, internet, remote or wireless not appearing in the text of the law, Idaho’s gambling statues are cut and dry, outlawing any activity that is not specifically authorized. Electronic simulations were mentioned, which could easily include computers or mobile devices running poker software/apps. And since online poker has not been legalized or regulated in Idaho, it is not authorized, thus illegal by default.

Additionally, there can be no argument that poker is a game of skill. Bona fide contests of skill may be permissible, but since poker is expressly named as an illegal activity, the argument holds no water. The punishment is much greater than a slap on the wrist, chastising any offender with up to 6 months in jail and fines of up to $1,000.

Is Idaho working to Legalize Online Poker?

No. Not a single proposition has been raised regarding the regulation of online poker in Idaho. Considering that Idaho does not authorize traditional poker or casino games, but does authorize pari-mutuel wagering, weighed against the fact that pari-mutuel online betting is not permitted by the federal government, while online poker and casino games are, the potential for Idaho to regulate online gambling anytime in the foreseeable future is miniscule.

Online Poker Players from Idaho

Hailing from Coeur D’Alene, Idaho – which just happens to be the only location in the state to offer a legal brick-and-mortar poker room via the Native American Coeur D’Alene Casino – is Kevin “ImaLuckSac” MacPhee. MacPhee has earned upwards of $5 million playing online poker tournaments, raking in 6 figures every year since 2007. In fact, according to Official Poker Rankings, 2007 was his worst year, generating about $225k, with his best annual run being in 2009, when he wrangled up $824k. Kevin MacPhee also has approximately $2.8 million in live poker tournaments, including a $1.3 million win at the 2010 EPT Berlin NLHE Main Event.

Land-Based Card Rooms in Idaho

There are 7 Native American casinos located throughout Idaho. Coeur D’Alene Casino in Worley, ID is the only one to offer a poker room; a recent extension to the establishment’s popular casino floor.

Coeur D’Alene Casino
Location: Worley, ID
Poker Room: Yes

Bannock Peak Casino
Location: Arbon Valley, ID
Poker Room: No

Clearwater River Casino & Hotel
Location: Lewiston, ID
Poker Room: No

Fort Hall Casino
Location: Fort Hall, ID
Poker Room: No

It’se-Ye-Ye Casino
Location: Kamiah, ID
Poker Room: No

Kootenai River Inn Casino & Spa
Location: Bonners Ferry, ID
Poker Room: No

Sage Hill Travel Center & Casino
Location: Fort Hall, ID
Poker Room: No

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