Montana Online Poker Legal Ramifications

Montana is commonly referred to as Big Sky Country for a reason. While it’s the 4th largest state in the US, it is home to the 7th smallest population of just 1,015,165 (est. 2013). With a gorgeous landscape that includes rolling plains and vast ranges of the Rocky Mountains, it’s not surprising that farming and ranching make up the largest portion of the state’s economy, along with mining, oil and gas production. Gambling is legal in Montana, but on a highly restrictive basis that does not currently include a regulated online poker market.

With a comparably low population, the Big Sky Country isn’t exactly brimming with online poker players, but they do exist. Not only that, they continue to play real money Texas Holdem games over the internet at offshore poker sites, despite the events of Black Friday in 2011. The question many would like to have answered is whether online poker in Montana is legal, illegal or somewhere in between.

Land-based Gambling in Montana

The land-based gambling activities in Montana may help give some indication of just how acquiesce the local government is towards actives that aren’t expressly authorized. Gambling has a rich history in Montana that dates back over a century. All gambling was prohibited in 1889, but the ban was lifted on pull tabs and table games in certain counties in the 1930’s. More forms of gambling were legalized in the 1970’s, including card games, bingo and sports pools, followed by keno machines and limited video poker games in 1985. The next year, the state lottery was approved, but it wasn’t until 1988 that Montana started collecting taxes on all authorized gambling. The laws were amended several times over the years but held to a highly restrictive policy that, to this day, allows a maximum $2 bet and maximum $800 payout from all legal gambling activities.

Deciphering the Laws of Montana as they relate to Online Poker

The Montana Code and State Constitution clearly defines what forms of gambling are and are not legal in the state. The excerpts below are taken from those texts, with a brief clarification provided.

Section Text Meaning (in re online poker)
Constitution 3-9 Gambling All forms of gambling, lotteries, and gift enterprises are prohibited unless authorized by acts of the legislature or by the people through initiative or referendum. Any form of gambling that is not specifically authorized is illegal in Montana.
MCA 23-5-112 Gambling Definitions (13) (a) “Gambling” or “gambling activity” means risking any money, credit, deposit, check, property, or other 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… Because poker involves an element of skill combined with chance, it falls under the definition of gambling.
 (19) “Illegal gambling device” means a gambling device not specifically authorized by statute or by the rules of the department. The term includes:
(a) a ticket or card, by whatever name known, containing concealed numbers or symbols that may match numbers or symbols designated in advance as prize winners…
(b) an apparatus, implement, or device, by whatever name known, specifically designed to be used in conducting an illegal gambling enterprise…
Due to the requirement of an illegal gambling device being “specifically designed to be used in conducting an illegal gambling enterprise”, a computer or mobile device (usable in online poker, but not specifically designed for that purpose), when used to play online poker should not fall under this definition.
(20) “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:
(e) internet gambling.
To operate a real money online poker site and offer services to residents of Montana is strictly prohibited. Note that this applies to operators, not players.
(21) (a) “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.
(b) …If all aspects of the gaming are conducted on Indian lands in conformity with federal statutes and with administrative regulations of the national Indian gaming commission, the term does not include class II gaming or class III gaming…
This section defines what internet gambling is, but does not state that it is illegal. However, the definition of gambling (above) states that any unauthorized gambling activity is illegal. Note that there is no penalty defined.
By the text of (21)(b), Tribal gaming operators may have the right to launch online poker sites in Montana, but none have chosen to do so at this time.

Is Online Poker Illegal in Montana?

Yes and no. Internet gambling of any type is clearly illegal, but there is no penalty defined for participating in illegal gambling activities. It is only the operators who suffer consequences for allowing players in Montana to access their website and play real money online poker games. The definition of an illegal gambling device obviously applies to contrivances that were “specifically designed” for the purpose of gambling. Computers and mobile devices may be capable of accessing illegal online poker sites, but they certainly weren’t built for that purpose. As such, there doesn’t seem to be any consequence for online poker players in Montana.

Is Montana working to Legalize Online Poker?

No. Outside of prohibiting operators from offering illegal online poker services to residents of the Big Sky Country in 2005, there have been no legislative moves to speak of, but hope is not lost. Stan Tavenner is the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) State Director in Montana and, in 2012, worked directly with the PPA and Montana Gaming Commission to update the state’s poker laws. His efforts led to an increase in pot limits, unlimited small-stakes tournaments and an expansion in the number of high-stakes poker tournaments that may be conducted by a card room from 12 to 16 per year. With his encouragement, Montana may eventually become acquiesce to the idea of a regulated – albeit very restrictive – online poker market in the coming years.

Online Poker Players from Montana

Due to the low population of the state, there aren’t too many identifiable online poker players from Montana. Known players include Alex “kidpoker406”/“PBR_King” Cantin, Christopher “a_ply2win_a” Singer and Jean “Montana Johnny” Weigand.

Land-Based Card Rooms in Montana

According to the State Gambling Control Division, there are more than 1,600 licensed gambling facilities in Montana with over 17,000 video gaming machines spread across every single county. To save time and avoid the risk of finger cramping, I’ve chosen to list only the land-based card rooms in Montana that offer live poker action.

Beacon Icehouse & Casino
Location: Great Falls, MT
Poker Room: Yes

Cat’s Paw Cardroom
Location: Bozeman, MT
Poker Room: Yes

Cellar Casino & Restaurant
Location: Miles City, MT
Poker Room: Yes

Discover Lodge Casino
Location: Cut Bank, MT
Poker Room: Yes

Glacier Peaks Casino & Hotel
Location: Browning, MT
Poker Room: Yes

Gold Mine Casino
Location: Billings, MT
Poker Room: Yes

Little Bighorn Casino
Location: Crow Agency, MT
Poker Room: Yes

Montana Nugget Casino – Kalispel
Location: Kalispel, MT
Poker Room: Yes

Ranger Lounge
Location: Sidney, MT
Poker Room: Yes

Silvertip Casino
Location: Missoula, MT
Poker Room: Yes

The Oxford
Location: Missoula, MT
Poker Room: Yes

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