Minnesota Online Poker Legal Structure

Minnesota takes up a good bit of space, listed as the 12th largest state in the US. The population density isn’t very high though, coming is as the 21st most populated territory with 5,420,380 residents (est. 2013). It offers a diverse landscape; everything from deep wooded forests and low lying prairies to major metropolitan areas, like the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The economy is as diverse as the topography, generating revenue from raw materials, transportation, government and even a portion from gambling related businesses. Unfortunately, an online poker market is not one of them.

With over 5 million people in the state, there’s no doubt that online poker players are still enjoying their favorite pastime in the North Star State, but the number of participants has greatly decreased since the events of Back Friday. Many naturally assume that if online poker is not expressly legalized and regulated in a state, that it must be illegal. That’s not always the case. Online poker often falls into a grey area of the law, where it’s not really legal or illegal. To find out what category Minnesota falls into, we’ll examine the state’s gambling industry and relative legal structure.

Land-based Gambling in Minnesota

A lot has happened on the legislative end in the Gopher State over the last century, albeit a slow progression. Bingo was the first form of gambling legalized in 1945, while slot machines were explicitly outlawed two years later. Pari-mutuel horse racing was finally legalized in 1983, followed by the grand opening of Canterbury Downs (now Canterbury Park) in 1985. That same year, the first bill to regulate a land-based casino was rejected. Tribes were already running bingo halls, much to the local government’s dismay, and in 1987 the IGRA resulted in many more tribal gaming facilities popping up around the state.

By 1990, the Minnesota Lottery came into play and charitable gambling had become huge success, but laws against casino games were getting stricter. It wasn’t until 1999 that Minnesota chose to allow race tracks to open card rooms for non-banked games only (i.e. poker). Eventually in 2003, due to a glaring budget deficit and the immense popularity of tribal casinos, the state legalized racinos, allowing horse tracks to house a wider variety of games such as slot machines. Not much has happened since then, but base don to the extensive history of gambling in Minnesota, the state is slowly widening its view towards the proliferation of gambling for increased tax dollars.

Deciphering the Laws of Minnesota as they relate to Online Poker

The Minnesota Statues are fairly clear on what is and is not legal in regards to gambling activities. The following legal citations may apply to online poker, with brief meanings provided for clarification.

Section Text Meaning (in re online poker)
609.75 Gambling Definitions 2. 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. Playing poker for real money is defined as betting.
4. Gambling device. A gambling device is a contrivance the purpose of which is that for a consideration a player is afforded an opportunity to obtain something of value, other than free plays, automatically from the machine or otherwise, the award of which is determined principally by chance, whether or not the contrivance is actually played. “Gambling device” also includes a video game of chance, as defined in subdivision 8. A computer or mobile device used to play online poker may be considered a gambling device. Realistically, poker is a game of skill, but under section 609.

761 Operations Permitted (below), Texas hold’em is specifically listed under “card games of chance”.

10. 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. This definition specifically states card or dice games of chance. Thus poker is defined as a game. Social/home poker games are excluded from the definition of a game.
11. Authorized gambling activity. An authorized gambling activity means any form of gambling authorized by and operated in conformance with law. Any gambling activity that is expressly legalized in Minnesota (i.e. not online poker).
609.755 Acts of or Relating to Gambling Whoever does any of the following is guilty of a misdemeanor:
(1) makes a bet…
(5) except where authorized by statute, possesses a gambling device.
Clause (5) does not prohibit possession of a gambling device in a person’s dwelling for amusement purposes in a manner that does not afford players an opportunity to obtain anything of value.
Playing poker for real money is making a bet, and a computer or mobile device used to play online poker could potentially be labeled a gambling device, thus both activities appear to be illegal.
The penalty for a misdemeanor is up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
609.761 Operations Permitted 3. Social skill game. Sections 609.755 and 609.76 do not prohibit tournaments or contests that satisfy all of the following requirements:
(1) the tournament or contest consists of the card games of chance commonly known as cribbage, skat, sheepshead, bridge, euchre, pinochle, gin, 500, smear, Texas hold’em, or whist;
(2) the tournament or contest does not provide any direct financial benefit to the promoter or organizer;
(3) the value of all prizes awarded for each tournament or contest does not exceed $200; and
(4) for a tournament or contest involving Texas hold’em:
(i) no person under 18 years of age may participate;
(ii) the payment of an entry fee or other consideration for participating is prohibited;
(iii) the value of all prizes awarded to an individual winner of a tournament or contest at a single location may not exceed $200 each day…
Social poker games are perfectly legal so long as no one stands to profit but the players, no fee is charged to participate and no one is awarded more than $200 in a single day. Online poker games would also be legal if they followed the same criteria, but all real-money poker sites collect a rake or fee when playing.
Note that Texas hold’em is listed under card games of chance.
609.762 Forfeiture of Gambling Devices, Prizes and Proceeds 1. Forfeiture. The following are subject to forfeiture:
(1) devices used or intended for use…as a gambling device…
(2) all moneys, materials, and other property used or intended for use as payment to participate in gambling or a prize or receipt for gambling;
In addition to the misdemeanor penalty, online poker players risk forfeiture and seizure of their gambling device (computer, mobile device, etc.) as well as any winnings derived from illegal betting.

Is Online Poker Illegal in Minnesota?

Yes. Although terms like online and internet never appear in the text of the Minnesota Statues in relation to gambling, the definitions of bet, gambling device, card games of chance (via social skill game) and authorized gambling activity are clear enough to come to a decisive conclusion that online poker is illegal in Minnesota. Essentially, any betting activity that is not authorized by the state is illegal by default.

Is Minnesota working to Legalize Online Poker?

Somewhat. As previously mentioned, Minnesota’s gambling statutes have taken on a tortoise effect in terms of speed. The only action taken towards the possible regulation of online poker in Minnesota was the introduction of bill SF 2211, requesting a study of online gambling in March of 2014. It was referred to the State and Local Government, but no action has since been taken.

Realistically speaking, Minnesota could be a prime candidate for online poker regulation, but it’s going to take major progress in the US iGaming market as well as competition from neighboring states before it happens. We could be looking at 4 years or more, but eventually Minnesota should warm up to the idea.

Online Poker Players from Minnesota

Minnesota has its fair share of successful online poker players who are still actively grinding the virtual felt. A few of the more prominent names include Paul “Drunk Dealer” Esser of Brainerd, Troy “stringbender” Graphenteen of Champlin, Menachem Ephraim “uri benasher” / “MenachemBenUri” Zvi of Minneapolis, Andy “brughtality” Brugh of Saint Cloud and Matt “KronicKiller” Williams of Clarkfield.

Land-Based Card Rooms in Minnesota

There are 20 active casinos in Minnesota. The majority of them – 90% in fact – are owned and operated by Native American tribes. The other two are classified as ‘racinos’; horse racing tracks that were authorized by the state to offer casino style gaming. The majority of them do offer poker rooms as well, as you can see from the list below.

Black Bear Casino Resort
Location: Carlton, MN
Poker Room: Yes

Canterbury Park
Location: Shakopee, MN
Poker Room: Yes

Fond-du-luth Casino
Location: Duluth, MN
Poker Room: Yes

Fortune Bay Resort Casino
Location: Tower, MN
Poker Room: Yes

Grand Casino Hinckley
Location: Hinckley, MN
Poker Room: Yes

Grand Casino Mille Lacs
Location: Onamia, MN
Poker Room: Yes

Grand Portage Lodge & Casino
Location: Grand Portage, MN
Poker Room: No

Jackpot Junction Casino Hotel
Location: Morton, MN
Poker Room: No

Little Six Casino
Location: Prior Lake, MN
Poker Room: No

Mystic Lake Casino Hotel
Location: Prior Lake, MN
Poker Room: No

Northern Lights Casino
Location: Walker, MN
Poker Room: Yes

Palace Casino
Location: Cass Lake, MN
Poker Room: No

Prairie’s Edge Casino Resort
Location: Granite Falls, MN
Poker Room: No

Running Aces Harness Park
Columbus, MN
Poker Room: Yes

Seven Clans Casino Red Lake
Location: Red Lake, MN
Poker Room: No

Seven Clans Casino Thief River Falls
Location: Thief River Falls, MN
Poker Room: Yes

Seven Clans Casino Warroad
Location: Warroad, MN
Poker Room: Yes

Shooting Star Casino
Location: Mahnomen, MN
Poker Room: Yes

Treasure Island Resort and Casino
Location: Welch, MN
Poker Room: No

White Oak Casino
Location: Deer River, MN
Poker Room: No


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