Legal Gambling in Idaho
An Overview of the Laws Covering Gambling In the State Of Idaho
Opportunities for gambling in Idaho are limited, with only lottery, pari-mutuel sports betting and limited electronic casino games available. This is in contrast to the rich history of casinos and gambling among speculators in the 1800’s – when casinos flourished under the regulation of individual towns. There is nothing specifically banning online gambling in Idaho law, though the definition of gambling is widely considered to be broad enough to include this. This page gives you a detailed overview of the Idaho gambling laws.
First up below, you will find Idaho’s gambling history summarized. Next I have gone through the different gambling games and genres, highlighting the current status of each and providing any relevant information. After this you will find information from the Statutes and a legal timeline – followed by a summary and look into the future of gambling in the Gem State.
Idaho Gambling Laws – A Brief History
Like many Western States, gambling went hand-in-hand with the history of settlement here. In the days of the gold-rush, speculators were happy to gamble their profits in casinos which were regulated by the individual towns and cities. This responsibility latest until after World War 2, when a new town was ‘artificially’ created on the outskirts of Boise with the intention of offering a gambling haven for residents of that city.
This started the wheels turning on the 1953 legislation which bans more or less every type of gambling game.
Today the options are limited. There are several tribal casinos, though these only offer lottery-type electronic machines, pull-tabs and limited poker games which are facilitated by a live dealer though are actually controlled by the machines.
There are some possibilities, you can bet on horse racing (using pooled or pari-mutuel betting) at live racetracks or licensed venues. Charitable gambling like bingo, raffles and even duck racing is available – with each event requiring a license. You are also free to bet on pool or billiards.
Social poker games are officially against the law in Idaho. However and incident in 2010, where a seniors ‘penny ante’ game was busted have recently lead to a softening of the law on this. There was such a large public outcry at the treatment of these seniors that the legislature put in a process to get approval from the public prosecutor’s office before any future busts. Since the go-ahead for small busts will be unwieldy to obtain, this represents a softening of the legal stance on social and home poker games.
The only current government approved forms of gambling here are the State Lottery and charity bingo and raffle type games. Lottery games include the big multi-State prizes of the Mega Millions and PowerBall – as well as instant play scratch-card type games.
It is not anticipated that Idaho will be rushing to legislate online poker games any time soon.
Idaho Gambling Laws – What Forms of Gambling Are Currently Legal
Casino Gambling: This is limited to tribal casinos, who offer ‘class 2’ video games, these include lottery type machines, and player against house poker machines which are sometimes facilitated by a live dealer. You can also play ‘Pull Tab’ lottery ticket games.
Online Casinos: No, like in many other States, there is nothing explicitly banning online gambling – the main Statutes are considered wide enough to make this illegal without an update specifically mentioning the internet.
Live Poker: No, not even social poker games are permitted in Idaho, and this game is specifically mentioned in the anti-gambling legislation – which rules out any ‘skill game’ arguments. In 2011 a bust of a senior’s small-stakes game caused such a big public outcry that rules were put in place to ensure that the public prosecutor handles any future social poker busts. Many believe this means that home-games will be tolerated in future, though strictly speaking they remain illegal.
Sports Betting: Yes, there are some limited opportunities for Sports betting. You can bet using pari-mutuel machines at licensed horse racing tracks, and you are free to bet on pool and billiards.
Lottery Betting: Yes, Idaho has a popular lottery and participate in inter-state games including the PowerBall.
Bingo Games: Yes, limited charity bingo games are allowed, each needs to be individually licensed and the terms of the license will include age and prize money restrictions.
Idaho Gambling Laws – Timeline of Statutes
As gambling laws go, Idaho is in the ‘broader’ end of the definitions. Not only do they outlaw games of chance which include some element of skill – they specifically mention poker, which is the game generating the biggest debate when it comes to skill against luck.
Here is the general definition of gambling, from Chapter 38, 18-3801.
“GAMBLING DEFINED. "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, baccarat or keno…”
Here is a timeline of the major legal events in the history of Idaho:
1949: Casino Table Games Banned in Boise. At this point the towns and cities of Idaho regulated their own gambling activity.
This instigated the creation of ‘Garden City’ a 17 foot wide strip of land outside of Boise, who legalized gaming in reaction to Boise’s crackdown. This badly backfired – putting in motion the legislation which completes the State-wide ban to this day.
1953: Slots Banned, this State-wide prohibition went into effect on the 1st Jan 1954 and has been in place ever since.
1963: Horse Racing Act is introduced, which permits pari-mutuel betting at racetracks and country fairs which host races.
1989: First drawing of the Idaho lottery, which would later grow to include a lot of inter-state games and become the most popular gambling format in the State.
1993: Bingo and Raffles statutes added to cover charitable gambling activities including duck races.
2011: Simulcast law enacted, though only eight licenses for off-track pari-mutuel horse racing bets have been issued to date.
2013: Idaho residents can now bet on historical horse races, again in a pari-mutuel format. This presumably allows ‘race night’ type events for entertainment.
Idaho Gambling Laws – Summary and Look to the Future
This is not the most open State when it comes to gambling. The only game that is free from restrictions is the lottery – which is extremely popular here. Options for residents looking for live poker games or casino gambling are to head West to Washington or South to Nevada.
There are no current bills or appetite for legalizing online poker. If the majority of the States do this and demonstrate revenues, then perhaps this will come up for debate in Idaho – my expectation is that this will be one of the last places to see regulated online gambling games.
History – Garden City
Bingo and Raffles laws
Nice Overview / Definitions (pdf)