While North Dakota is teeming with gambling opportunities, many residents might be surprised to find out that the Peace Garden State doesn’t actually regulate any form of gambling. That doesn’t mean it’s illegal, just that the state itself is not involved in the authorization process and, therefore, does not profit from it. There are near a dozen tribal casinos in North Dakota spotting all corners of the map and evenly dispersed between, but commercial gambling is prohibited.
Simulcast pari-mutuel betting is legal in North Dakota, but on a limited basis. There is only one track left in the state, the North Dakota Race Park, and it’s generally only open for one weekend in July. Once a mecca for off-track betting, legalized in 1989 and growing into a $150 million industry by 2000, it was eventually thrown back into the prohibition column when the CEO of the largest pari-mutuel betting company in the state was indicted for laundering $100 million in unlicensed OTB operations. With such a slanted view towards gambling, many are questioning where North Dakota stands in regards to online poker laws.
Legality of Online Poker in North Dakota
With a population of just 699,628 (2012), North Dakota isn’t what you would call a melting pot of online gamblers. However, for those who do enjoy playing online poker, it is, unfortunately, an issue the law makers of the Peace Garden State have yet to touch on. In fact, the gambling laws in North Dakota are some of the most abstruse and least effusive in the country. While it seems that would make the reader’s job easier – legal jargon being complicated enough to read; even more so when ridiculously verbose – it is, in fact, more difficult to come to any direct conclusion.
The laws of North Dakota are something best left to be deciphered by the most educated lawyers in the state, which is exactly who we recommend contacting for a precise answer as to whether online poker is legal in North Dakota. However, for the purpose of this guide, we will attempt to interpret the connotations of the state’s laws in regards to online poker. We will also touch on the topic of future online poker regulation in North Dakota.
North Dakota Constitution / Century Code – Gambling
We’ve collected the following quotations from the Constitution and Century Code of North Dakota pertaining to the state’s views on gambling related matters.
The legislative assembly shall not authorize any game of chance, lottery, or gift enterprises, under any pretense, or for any purpose whatever. However, the legislative assembly shall authorize the state of North Dakota to join a multi-state lottery for the benefit of the state of North Dakota, and, the legislative assembly may authorize by law bona fide nonprofit veterans’, charitable, educational, religious, or fraternal organizations, civic and service clubs, or such other public-spirited organizations as it may recognize, to conduct games of chance when the entire net proceeds of such games of chance are to be devoted to educational, charitable, patriotic, fraternal, religious, or other public-spirited uses.
1-28-01 Gambling Definitions
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;
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. Gambling apparatus does not include an amusement game or device as defined in section 53-04-01.
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.
2. It is a class A misdemeanor to:
a. Sell, purchase, receive, or transfer a chance to participate in a lottery…
b. Disseminate information about a lottery…
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.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in North Dakota?
The incredibly broad definitions of gambling and gambling apparatus would point to online poker being illegal in North Dakota. Virtually any wager is illegal (unless conducted at a tribal casino or as a legal charitable wager), and a gambling apparatus is anything that can be used to place an illegal wager, including “gambling between persons”, as would be the case in an online poker game. Based on that alone we would have to determine that online poker is illegal in North Dakota.
However, there is one loophole that online poker players could attempt to exploit. By definition, gambling does exclude contests of skill, and is defined as a wager “over which the person taking the risk has no control”. North Dakota is one of 37 states known to accommodate the Dominant Factor Test, which declares that wagering on any contest where skill dominates luck is, by law, not considered gambling. In addition, poker was deemed a game of skill by a federal judge in 2012. We obviously can’t predict whether that argument would hold up in a court of law, since no one has ever been charged with unlawful online poker play in the state.
Is North Dakota working to regulate online poker?
Despite its lack of regulation in any other form of gambling, North Dakota was actually one of the very first states to attempt legalizing online poker. Rep. Jim Kasper tried to push an online gambling bill in 2005, but it was immediately jeered and rejected. In 2012, shortly after the US DOJ reversed its stance on the Wire Act, giving individual states the right to legalize and regulate online gambling at will, Kasper once more raised the issue, scoffing at those who laughed at him 7 years prior and stating that North Dakota could have spearheaded the industry if only people had listened to him back then.
Unfortunately, North Dakota did not pick up discussions on the regulation of online poker in the 2013 session, as Kasper had hoped. While it’s feasible that North Dakota could legalize online poker in the next few years, the state certainly doesn’t preserve the population necessary to support an intrastate online poker market. If and when the US government chooses to regulate online poker on a federal level, permitting interstate online poker, only then can we expect law makers in the Peace Garden State to seriously examine the matter.