A Detailed Guide to Gambling in Idaho
The patchwork of statutes, constitutional amendments and regulations which forms Idaho's gambling laws can be confusing - even for lifelong residents of the state.
Commercial casinos are banned, but you'll find seven such establishments operating around the clock - on federally recognized tribal lands, of course. Playing poker in any form puts you on the wrong side of the law, and yet, the Idaho Lottery readily advertises poker-based scratch card products. Despite the mounting trend toward abolition of animal racing, Idaho steadfastly clings to both the thoroughbred and greyhound industries.
All things considered, figuring out what you can and cannot wager money on when on Idaho soil can be vexing to say the least.
This page has been assembled to provide readers with a clear and concise introduction to Idaho's various laws on gambling games. We're no lawyers, mind you, just gambling enthusiasts with an interest in seeing every state treat its players fairly and with respect.
Whether you enjoy a soothing session spent spinning the slots, doubling down to take on a dastardly dealer or heading online to enjoy poker, table games and other casino classics from the comfort of home - knowing the law is a key component to success.
After all, dragging a massive pot at your local poker club, only to see the police swoop in and confiscate your winnings - would be a serious drag. The same goes for a life-changing jackpot won on DraftKings, FanDuel or any number of gambling activities that Idaho currently deems illegal.
Until a federal law is passed to standardize gambling laws nationwide, Americans are subject to 50 distinct interpretations of gambling law - and Idaho is simply one piece to that puzzle. For the tens of thousands of Idahoans who wish to learn more about their gambling rights, the letter of the law holds the secret to what is and isn't permissible.
Read on to discover exactly what constitutes a legal wager in the Gem State, and why, with our comprehensive guide to gambling in Idaho.
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Online Gambling and Idahoan Law
For folks in Idaho - or any Americans living outside of Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware for that matter - knowing whether or not online gambling is a crime can be difficult indeed.
We'll tackle that topic in the first entry below, but before we do, let's address the factors that you should be searching for in a site. As a player, your unique combination of knowledge and instinct will always stand as the last line of defense, so be sure to know what you're looking for.
The world of online gambling sites spans the spectrum from global online poker rooms like PokerStars, to the DFS big boys of DraftKings and FanDuel, and literally thousands of smaller casino, slot, bingo and specialty game providers in between. Navigating that world can be treacherous for the uninitiated, especially when deposits made with real dollars are on the line.
Your job is to be selective with your decision making, sifting through the seemingly endless stream of sites to locate the best of the bunch. Doing so can be a subjective matter, as your favorite platform may not be ours, but the most reputable providers out there all have a few things in common.
First and foremost, the best online gambling sites have a proven track record. Think of them like an eBay seller or restaurants on Yelp - and use ratings generated by real customers. Online gamblers have never been known as a shy crowd, so if a site is out there stiffing players on withdrawals, scheming to take away bonus funds or otherwise acting shadily, the internet will know about it.
The reams of reviews posted online are your best ticket, but don't get carried away by the complaint sections either. Losing players love blasting a site on their way out of the door. Use your discretion and read between the lines, so to speak. If somebody is posting a valid complaint about withdrawal waiting periods - rather than "this game is rigged" nonsense - you'll know their issues don't stem directly from a run of bad luck.
Other important factors to look for when scanning online gambling site reviews include low playthrough wagering requirements to unlock bonus funds, a multitude of banking options for deposits and withdrawals, licensing by a recognized regulatory agency and several years or decades in the industry. That's why we prefer to use sites like those listed above, as they've all been in the business for a while now, carefully crafting reputations for excellence among the notoriously hard to please online gambling community.
What is Idaho's stance on online betting. Are Offshore Gambling Sites Safe?
What is an offshore gamebling site and is it safe. Can I be arrested for gambling online in Idaho?
If it's a crime does that mean jail time? More Gambling Laws in Idaho
Breaking down what exactly is or isn't legal in Idaho. Gambling Venues in Idaho
Where to gamble in the state of Idaho. The History of Gaming Laws in Idaho
A brief history of Idaho laws regarding gambling. Idaho Gambling FAQ
Taking a look at the questions Idaho gamblers have asked. The Furture of Gambling in Idaho
What does the future of gambling look like in Idaho?
Is Online Gambling Legal in Idaho?
Under the provisions of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, the federal government moved to ban online poker, casino games, slot machines and the like. The UIGEA is still the law of the land today, but it relied on an older law known as the Wire Act of 1961 - which prohibited people from placing sports betting wagers via the telephone.
At the time, the Department of Justice (DOJ) held that the Wire Act applied to online gambling, as most internet connections utilized dial-up telephone services at the time. But by 2011, with the gap between traditional phones and the internet growing wider by the day, the DOJ issued a revised interpretation of the Wire Act - one which stated that the law only applied to sports betting.
In an instant, individual states were granted the right to regulate their own online poker and casino game industries - an invitation which Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware acted upon in 2013. Since then, online gambling has flourished into a fully legal, regulated and taxed industry in those three states - while remaining outlawed in the other 47 jurisdictions.
Even so, the UIGEA was written to target online gambling operators - and not players. As the law is constructed, playing online gambling games is not a crime, only conducting business related to such games.
As such, American players have spent the last decade bringing their bankrolls to the handful of offshore online gambling platforms which choose to serve the U.S. market in spite of the UIGEA. You'll learn more about those offshore operators in the next entry, but for now, just know that Idahoans interested in online gambling have no other options on the table. Despite the rush of legislation being introduced to regulate online gambling - highlighted by the momentum seen in states like Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Illinois in recent years - Idaho has introduced no such proposals. One reason for the lack of activity on the online gambling front in Idaho may be the state's Constitution, which is rather strict when it comes to all forms of wagering.
According to a 1992 amendment added to Article III, Section §20(1)-(3) of the Idaho Constitution, online gambling may very well be explicitly outlawed there (emphasis added):
"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."
From the look of things, gambling via your computer, laptop or mobile device very well constitutes the commission of a crime under Idaho law. With that said, no records of any arrests or fines associated with online gambling in Idaho - from the player's side of the spectrum - can be found. That would lead one to reasonably believe that while online poker rooms, casinos and slot parlors are surely not legal under the state's strict laws, playing on them is not punishable either.
Are Offshore Gambling Sites Safe?
Yes. Also... no.
As with any question about the gambling industry and integrity, deciding whether or not an online gambling platform deserves your business is a touchy subject.
A simple search on Google will show you that many online gambling operators are far from reputable, as players routinely report delayed payouts, missing bonus funds and other shenanigans. Complaint boards have been established specifically for online gamblers, and the internet is littered with tales of stolen jackpots, cheaters plying their trade and in the worst cases - sites that simply up and vanish with player funds in tow.
On the other hand, tens of millions of Americans log on and fire up their online poker, slot, casino and DFS accounts each and every day - so it stands to reason that plenty of people are not being ripped off.
That's the truth of it, as any industry would be doomed from the start if all providers were actively defrauding their customers.
In reality, the online gambling industry is just like its brick and mortar counterpart in many respects - right down to the ratio of respectable operators to bad apples. The thing is, when the internet is concerned, the vocal minority is always heard first and foremost.
The only reason sites like the ones we recommended have been in business for so many years, and even decades, is their respective reputations. By diligently ensuring that all withdrawals are paid in a timely manner, handling customer complaints with aplomb and constantly staying at the forefront of security and game integrity, these platforms have set themselves apart from the pack.
The ancient maxim of caveat emptor - or "buyer beware" - still holds legal precedence to this day. Those words matter more in the online gambling industry than most others, simply due to the lack of regulation caused by the UIGEA's draconian approach.
If you find yourself wondering whether a specific online gambling site is safe, perform your due diligence first and foremost. Check with fellow players through review aggregation sites, confirm that their licensing and accreditation is legitimate and most importantly, take your time doing so.
When you've read up and researched on all there is to know about a particular platform, the evidence for its reliability - or lack thereof - will be right there for all to see.
Can I Be Arrested for Gambling Online in Idaho?
See the first question for more detail, but this is a "splitting hairs" scenario if we ever saw one.
In other words, you could get arrested for gambling online in Idaho, but you almost surely won't be. The state's laws make illegal gambling, online or otherwise, a misdemeanor offense - but no Idahoan has ever been prosecuted for their online gambling play.
More Gambling Laws in Idaho
Chief among the state's gambling laws is Section §18-3801 of the Idaho Statutes, which defines gambling under the following terms:
"'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."
Article III, Section §20(1)-(3) of the Idaho Constitution effectively limits the state's legal gambling avenues to the lottery, pari-mutuel racing and bingo or raffle games when played for charity:
"(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.
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."
The penalties for illegal gambling, a misdemeanor offense, are codified under Section §18-3802 of the Idaho Statutes:
"(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.
(2) Gambling is a misdemeanor."
Crucially, subsection (b) specifically outlaws the provision of gambling games on one's own property, thus making "social gambling" activities like home poker games and sports game pools illegal.
The genesis for Idaho's current status, in which ostensibly illegal slot machines can now be found by the thousands in tribal casinos, stems from the 2002 passage of Initiative 1, the Idaho State-Tribal Gambling Compact Initiative. After 57.8 percent of voters supported the measure, tribal casinos were permitted to spread video gaming machines (VGMs) that closely mimic slot machine gameplay - aside from a few crucial tweaks in appearance:
"Gaming machines used by Indian tribes which are not activated by a handle or lever, do not dispense coins, currency, tokens or chips, and which perform only certain defined functions, and defining such machines as neither slot machines nor imitations or simulations of any form of casino gaming."
As the introduction of, and warm reception to, the VGM addition has proven, Idaho is amenable to reform when it comes to gambling law expansion. With that in mind, make your voice heard and keep the pressure on local legislators to take up issues like poker rooms, DFS and online gambling whenever the opportunity arises - because progress depends on people.
Gambling Venues in Idaho
Thanks to the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) by Congress in 1988, and the subsequent petition for tribal gaming compacts by the Coeur d'Alene, the Kootenai and the Nez Perce tribes - Idaho is home to seven tribal casinos today.
These venues are spread from the state's northern panhandle (Coeur D'Alene Casino) to the eastern corner's I-15 corridor (Bannock Peak Casino, Fort Hall Casino, and Sage Hall Casino), so residents in all areas have relatively easy access to the action.
We've created capsules for all seven Idaho casinos to get your started on your journey, complete with opening date, slot machine count, address, contact information and website URL. Without further ado, take a look below for the grand tour of Idaho's thriving casino industry:
1. Bannock Peak Casino
1707 E County Rd,
Pocatello, ID 83204
Telephone: (208) 235 - 1308
2. Clearwater River Casino & Hotel
17500 Nez Perce Highway,
Lewiston, ID 83501
Telephone: (208) 746 - 0723
3. Coeur D'Alene Casino
37914 South Nukwalqw,
Worley, ID 83876
Telephone: (800) 523 - 2464
4. Fort Hall Casino
Fort Hall, ID 83203
Telephone: (208) 237-8774
5. It'se-Ye-Ye Casino
419 Third Street,
Kamiah, Idaho 83536
Telephone: (208) 935 - 1638
6. Kootenai River Inn Casino & Spa
7169 Plaza St.,
Bonners Ferry, ID 83805
Telephone: (208) 267-8511
7. Sage Hill Travel Center & Casino
Interstate 15, Exit 80,
Blackfoot, ID 83203
Telephone: (208) 785 - 0194
Gambling isn't limited to casinos in Idaho, so check below for information on the state's three major off-track betting (OTB) locations:
1. Coeur d'Alene Greyhound Park
5100 Riverbend Ave,
Post Falls, ID 83854
Telephone: (800) 828 - 4880
2. Sandy Downs Racing, Inc.
6855 S 15th E,
Idaho Falls, ID 83401
Telephone: (208) 529 - 0671
History of Gambling in Idaho
Idaho enacts its first state Constitution, which includes clear language to outlaw wagering on lottery games.
A new statute is added to the law which specifically exempts slot machines from the lottery prohibition."
The original Horse Racing Act is approved by the Idaho Legislature, but Governor Robert Smylie immediately exercises his veto power to block the bill from becoming law.
Senate Bill 1471 is passed by the Idaho Legislature in March, sending the Lottery Creation Act to voters under public reerendum which is later approved in November.
The passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) by Congress grants any federally recognized Native American tribe to sign gaming compact agreements with the state's housing reservation lands.
The debate over Class III gaming compels Idaho lawmakers to authorize an amendment to the state Constitution [Idaho Const. Art. III 20(1)-(3))], which explicitly makes any Class III gambling illegal. This amendment effectively confines legal gambling in Idaho to the state lottery, pari-mutuel races, and charity-based bingo or raffle contests. Despite repeated attempts to challenge the law, this amendment served to block Idaho's tribes from spreading Class IIII casino games despite the federal implications of the IGRA.
A simulcasting law is passed, enabling Idahoan horseracing enthusiasts to place wagers on races without actually attending the racetrack.
The Coeur d'Alene tribe is blocked from building a poker room within its casino by a state court. After attempting to open a six-table poker room in May, the tribe was taken to court by the state almost immediately for violating Idaho's longstanding ban on the game. In 2015, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the state, turning Idaho into a "no-mans land" for poker players.
DraftKings and FanDuel agree to restrict access to Idahoans, having reached an agreement with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.
With no laws on the books to ban slot machines, the "one-armed bandits" become widely popularized across the state.
A ruling by Idaho Supreme Court renders slot machines unconstitutional, and Section 18-3804 is added to the Idaho Code, officially making slots illegal for the first time.
The second Horse Racing Act is passed, and this time Governor Smylie signs it into law under section 54-2501 of Idaho Code, thus establishing the Idaho State Racing Commission as the regulatory body in charge in charge of pari-mutuel horse racing within the state.
A trio of federally recognized tribal organizations in Idaho - the Coeur d'Alene, the Kootenai, and the Nez Perce - begin the petition process to create the state's initial tribal gaming compacts as part of the IGRA. At the time, each tribe sought access to Class III gaming - which the IGRA uses to cover casino games such as blackjack, baccarat, roulette, and slot machines - along with the standard Class I and II gaming services like charity raffles, bingo halls, and pull-tab lottery cards apportioned to tribes.
Voters were asked to settle the Class IIII gaming debate once and for all, with the when Initiative 1, the Idaho State- Tribal Gambling Compact, was put to public referendum. After 57.8 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of passage, tribal casinos in Idaho were given the right to spread so-called video gaming machines (VGMs), provided they didn't accept coins, use pull levers, or include any resemblance to traditional slot machine gameplay.
Bill No. 220 is passed by allowing bettors to wager on historical races. Using machines that mimic slots in many ways, these historical races concealed identifying information, thus turning the wager into a random game of chance.
Bill No. 1011 is passed by the Idaho Legislature, repealing the 2013 law allowing for historical horse racing via machines. Upon learning that these machines looked and felt just like Las Vegas-style slot machines, many lawmakers stated that they had been tricked or deceived by the original law's vague language.
Idaho Gambling FAQ
The best way to learn about any subject involves asking questions, and not just listening to answers, but applying them.
For a subject so complex as gambling laws for a specific state, you'll likely be left wondering about many aspects of the lesson long after it's been taught. Whether you're a proud Idahoan who wants to know more about their own gambling rights, or a visitor to spud country looking to stay on the right side of the law, these three questions might be on your mind at the moment - so we'll do our best to answer them below:
We can't say for sure whether they will, but the precedent has been set for Idaho to prosecute so-called "social gambling" activities.
Laws in most states that ban casinos allow individuals to participate in small-stakes wagers between one another - which is why home poker games, bingo nights at the old-folks home and sports bets like March Madness office pools have become so popular nationwide.
Even when the law itself prohibits social gambling, local police departments and prosecutor's offices seldom have the willpower - or resources - to punish people for having a little fun.
Idaho is a different animal, however, and under Section §18-3802 of the Idaho Statutes, a person who commits the following "crimes" is considered to be guilty of a misdemeanor offense:
"(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."
Many states have similar language on their books, but Idaho is rare in that it actively enforces the law in seemingly every circumstance. Poker clubs formed among friends, weekly home games contested by families and even retirement communities using bingo prizes to pass the time have all been raided by local authorities.
See for yourself by running a search for your favorite card game, along with "Idaho + arrest," and you'll return several stories that show Idaho is dead serious about its ban on social gambling.
Unfortunately, a ruling issued in May of 2016 by Attorney General Lawrence Wasden added Idaho to the short list of states where major DFS sites like DraftKings and FanDuel actively restrict access to real money contests.
Today, Idaho occupies a state of DFS purgatory along with nine other states (Arizona, Alabama, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, Delaware and Washington).
According to Wasden's interpretation of Idaho law, DFS played for real money constitutes illegal gambling:
"The concern I have is that the paid daily sports offerings provided by these companies constitute gambling under Idaho law. I have a duty to enforce and uphold that law. I commend the companies for negotiating in good faith and agreeing not to make these contests available in Idaho.
Idaho defines gambling, in part, as risking money or other thing of value for gain that is contingent in whole or part upon chance or the outcome of an event, including a sporting event. My concern is that the daily fantasy sports offerings my office reviewed require participants to risk money for a cash prize contingent upon individual athletes' collective performances in various future sporting events.
As I see it, this falls within Idaho's definition of gambling."
The official opinion was issued after three months spent negotiating with representatives for DraftKings and FanDuel - both of which then voluntarily elected to restrict real money contests to anybody connecting from an Idaho-based IP address.
DFS remains illegal under Idaho law as of the time of this writing (July 2017), and no major operator allows Idahoans access to their platforms for the purposes of real money wagering.
Your memory serves you well, as the Coeur d'Alene tribe did indeed open a tiny poker room featuring six tables of Texas holdem action.
That was back in May of 2014, but within days of the room's debut, Idaho authorities filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the tribe. The debate stemmed from the divide over how poker should be classified - either as a game of skill or a game of chance.
Section §18-3801 of the Idaho Statutes includes the following exemption, which protects certain games from being banned as gambling:
"(1) Bona fide contests of skill, speed, strength or endurance in which awards are made only to entrants or the owners of entrants."
As the Coeur d'Alene tribe contended, poker is widely regarded as skill-based, with several prominent court rulings deeming a player-banked game which is dependent on player decisions to be a game of skill - and thus legal under the letter of the law.
Eventually, the tribe was forced to take its appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but that body ruled in favor of the state to effectively end the debate over live poker's legal status in Idaho.
We worked hard to give readers a thorough introduction to the laws governing gambling in Idaho, but it never hurts to add a little outside research to the equation.
With that in mind, we've located four links which should prove to be helpful as you continue your Idaho gambling law tutelage:
Chapter 38 of the Idaho Statutes covers "Gambling" crimes and their related punishments, with Section §18-3801 defining gambling itself, Section §18-3802 outlining the prohibited forms of gambling, Section §18-3809 addressing bookmaking, pools and sports betting and Section §18-3810 covering the slot machine ban.
The Coeur d'Alene Press published this detailed look back at Idaho's gambling law timeline in 2015, which comes complete with the newspaper's "insider" view into the political machinations behind each major shift and reform.
Published by Ph.D. historian J.M. Neil of The Blue Review, this deep dive into Idaho's frontier days describes the phenomenon known as "foot-wide towns" - or tiny enclaves set up just outside of Boise city limits to escape historical gambling bans - will transport you to different era. The true story of Garden City and its rise from slot-machine front to prosperous locale, provides a telling glimpse into Idaho's modern aversion to most forms of gambling.
The Future and Your Views
Shortly after the DOJ issued its revised opinion on the Wire Act - thus paving the way for states to enact their own online gambling laws - the Idaho Freedom Foundation published a report entitled, "Feds give OK to online gambling, but it is not likely to happen in Idaho."
As that dreary headline suggested, most lawmakers in the Gem State simply don't view online gambling as a priority - but tens of thousands of players there do. Even so, not a single bill proposing to legalize and regulate online gambling in Idaho has been introduced.
In a day and age defined by representatives not adequately working on behalf of their constituents, this level of inactivity is akin to a crime. Even if Idaho's conservative history when it comes to gambling law means the measure won't pass muster, declining to even put one forward would seem to be a mistake.