North Dakota Online Poker Laws and Legalities

North Dakota’s landmass is the 19th most extensive in the US, but its home to one of the lowest population densities in the country, ranked the 48th largest (3rd smallest) populous with just 723,393 residents (est. 2013). The majority of the state’s economy is based on agriculture, but other major industries have been strengthening in the Peace Garden State, making it the highest rated US territory for new jobs the last 5 years running. Limited forms of gambling are authorized in North Dakota to bring in additional government funding, but online poker is not among them.

This document aims to answer the question countless internet players want to know – is it illegal to play online poker for real money in North Dakota? We’ll attempt to find the answer by examining the land-based casino industry and relative gambling laws of the Peace Garden State.

Land-based Gambling in North Dakota

North Dakota has very strict rules when it comes to any type of gambling activities. There are only two types of casinos; the tribal gaming variety and the charitable variety. Charitable gambling on games of chance was legalized in 1976, followed by pari-mutuel betting in 1987, but again, only for charitable purposes. Charitable gaming must benefit a bona fide non-profit organization, as well as the local government via modest taxation. Following the IGRA of 1988, North Dakota signed compacts with 5 Native American groups that are authorized to provide tribal casino gambling. When the state lottery was authorized in 2002, only drawings on multi-state games were authorize (no scratch cards), with 26% of the proceeds going to the State General Fund. Suffice to say, gambling activities do compliment the tax coffers in North Dakota.

Deciphering the Laws of North Dakota as they relate to Online Poker

The following content is taken directly from the North Dakota Century Code, including the Criminal Code, Chapter 12.1-28, Gambling and Related Offenses and an Aug. 2013 amendment to the North Dakota Games of Chance Laws, Chapter 53-06.1.

Section Text Meaning (in re online poker)
12.1-28-01. Gambling – Definitions. 1. “Gambling” means risking any money, credit, deposit, or other thing of value for gain, contingent, wholly or partially, upon lot, chance, the operation of gambling apparatus, or the happening or outcome of an event, including an election or sporting event, over which the person taking the risk has no control.

Gambling does not include:
a. Lawful contests of skill, speed, strength, or endurance in which awards are made only to entrants or to the owners of entries;
b. Lawful business transactions, or other acts or transactions now or hereafter expressly authorized by law…

All gambling activities that involve chance, whether skill is a factor or not, are defined as gambling. Any gambling act that is not authorized by law is illegal.
2. “Gambling apparatus” means any device, machine, paraphernalia, or equipment that is used or usable in the playing phases of any gambling activity, whether that activity consists of gambling between persons, or gambling by a person involving the playing of a machine. A computer or mobile device used to gambling online would fall under the definition of a gambling apparatus because it is usable in the playing phases of a gambling activity.
3. “Gambling house” means any location or structure…wherein gambling is permitted or promoted… any place where gambling apparatus is found is presumed to be a gambling house, provided that this presumption shall not apply where…games are found in a private residence. Having a gambling apparatus (i.e. computer used for online gambling) in one’s private residence is not considered running a gambling house.
12.1-28-02. Gambling – Related offenses – Classification of offenses. Except as permitted by law:
1. It is an infraction to engage in gambling on private premises where the total amount wagered by an individual player exceeds twenty-five dollars per individual hand, game, or event.
Gambling and home poker games played on private property are legal so long as no player wagers more than $25 per hand, game or event. Wagering more than $25 (but less than $500) per hand, game or event is punishable by up to $1,000 fine.
2. It is a class A misdemeanor to:
c. Engage in gambling on private premises where the total amount wagered by an individual player exceeds five hundred dollars per individual hand, game, or event.
Wagering more than $500 per hand, game or event conducted in a private residence is punishable by up to 3 years in prison and/or up to $3,000 fine.
53-06.1-03. Permits, site authorization, and licenses. 1. a. An organization recognized as a public-spirited organization…may apply for a local permit to conduct only raffles, bingo, or sports pools, or a charity local permit to conduct only  raffles, bingo, sports pools, paddlewheels, twenty-one, and poker… Because charitable organizations may only conduct games of chance, and poker is listed among those authorized games, we must assume that poker is a game of chance, and therefore defined as gambling.
53-06.1-07.2. Poker. Poker may be conducted on not more than two occasions per year. An organization may supply the dealer. The maximum single bet is one dollar. Not more than three raises, of not more than one dollar each, may be made among all the players in each round of bets. For nontournament activity, an organization shall charge each player a fee not to exceed two dollars per one-half hour of playing time, collected in advance. For a tournament, an organization shall charge each player an entry fee and the amount of prizes may not exceed ninety percent of the gross proceeds. Poker is a legal activity in North Dakota when conducted by an authorized charitable organization, but its availability is strictly limited to two occasions per year, whether it’s a tournament or a cash game. For cash games, there can be no rake; only a pre-collected fee of no more than $2 per half hour. Bets are capped at $1 with a maximum of 3 raises per betting round.

Is Online Poker Illegal in North Dakota?

Yes. The definition of gambling includes wagering on contests in which the person taking the risk has no control. The game of poker does give the player some control, but the fact that gambling is also defined as “risking any…thing of value for gain, contingent, wholly or partially, upon…chance” alludes to poker’s inclusion as a gambling activity. Note that wagering on a gambling apparatus is also defined as gambling.

While the definition of gambling alone leaves a lot of wiggle room for arguing that poker shouldn’t be included as a common game of chance, the August 2013 amendment to the North Dakota Games of Chance Laws clearly includes poker. Thus we must conclude that poker is a game of chance, and therefore is defined as gambling. There are distinct penalties for gambling on private premises, but only if the amount wagered per hand $25. The penalty gets harsher for exceeding $500.

Further supporting the theory that online poker is illegal in the Peace Garden State is one of the Q&A subjects found on the FAQ page of the North Dakota Attorney General website. Although the state’s laws do not expressly address the subject of online poker, the following statement does appear on that website:

Question: “Is online gambling legal in North Dakota?”

Answer: “No. Online gambling is prohibited under the state’s Constitution, regardless of the amount wagered. In North Dakota, gambling may be conducted only by licensed non-profit organizations, Tribal casinos or through a state run lottery…”

Is North Dakota working to legalize Online Poker?

Yes, eventually. This may come as a surprise, but the very first US online poker bill was presented in North Dakota by Rep. Jim Kasper back in 2005. Unfortunately, his theory that online poker would generate enough tax dollars to help alleviate the burden of property taxes was viewed as absurd and immediately dismissed by his peers. It wasn’t until 2012, right after the US Department of Justice revised their opinion of the Wire Act, that the state started looking seriously at the issue. A plan to institute online lottery sales was introduced, but that got waved off as a hastily authored piece of legislation. Since then, online poker has been placed on the back burner in North Dakota, but the fact that it’s still brewing is a good sign.

Online Poker Players from North Dakota

North Dakota may not have a huge population, but it is home to a number of professional and casual online poker players, including Daniel “THE_D_RY” Ryan”, Jessie “laburro” / “toohottotrot” Habaak, Greg “PrairieFox” Passa, Billy “OH bill” Stanley, and Paul “wolfanjack” Skjerseth.

Land-Based Card Rooms in North Dakota

There are about a dozen authorized casinos in North Dakota. Game availability has a lot to do with the type of establishment, being either a tribal casino (less restrictions on games) or charitable gaming facility. They have been categorically separated below because charitable casinos that offer a poker room may only present poker cash games and/or tournaments twice per year. Thus, if a card room is available, be sure to call ahead for open poker room dates.

North Dakota Tribal Casinos

Dakota Magic Casino
Location: Hankinson, ND
Poker Room: Yes

Four Bears Casino
Location: Four Bears Village, ND
Poker Room: Yes

Prairie Knights Casino and Resort
Location: Fort Yates, ND
Poker Room: No

Skydancer Casino
Location: Belcourt, ND
Poker Room: Yes

Spirit Lake Casino
Location: Saint Michael, ND
Poker Room: Yes

North Dakota Charitable Gaming

Blue Wolf Casino
Location: Fargo, ND
Poker Room: Yes

King Pin Casino
Location: Fargo, ND
Poker Room: Yes

Lucky Strike Lounge and Casino
Location: Minot, ND
Poker Room: No

Playmaker’s All-American Lounge
Location: Grand Forks, ND
Poker Room: No

Rumors Casino Lounge
Location: Grand Forks, ND
Poker Room: No

Southgate Casino
Location: Grand Forks, ND
Poker Room: Yes

The Stadium Sports Bar and Casino
Location: Bismarck, ND
Poker Room: No

The Vegas Motel
Location: Minot, ND
Poker Room: Yes

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