Legal Alaska Gambling Laws

An Overview of the Gambling Laws in the State Of Alaska

Alaska’s gambling laws are very restrictive, the small amount of gambling opportunities within this State involve such quirks as charity betting on Dog Mushing contests (the State sport), and pull-tab games which are paper based lottery cards. This article gives you all the information you need to get a good overview of what is legal from a gambling perspective in the State of Alaska.

First up below you’ll find a quick-fire historical overview, which some of the lengths that Alaskans will go to in order to enjoy a little gambling entertainment after that. Next is a game-by-game summary of what you can and can’t gamble on – followed by excerpts from the current laws demonstrating just how broad the gambling ban in this state is. At the end of this article I have summed it all up and added some speculation about the future of gambling in Alaska.

Alaska Gambling Laws – A Brief History

This section is smaller than for other States. There is no grand story about how gambling was brought down only to find creative ways back into law before flourishing again – things have always been a big ‘no’ for this state, who do not even offer their residents a lottery.

Creative Ways That Alaskans Gamble

Cruise-ships are already big business in this State during the summer months, with the natural beauty of the landscape both unique and staggering. Many residents also enjoy these cruises, though for different reasons. Once in international waters or Canadian territory, onboard casinos open up including slots halls and table games.

Online gambling is another method widely used by Alaska residents, for sports, casino and poker games. There is no specific law banning online gambling at the State level (and no enforcement has ever been attempted). The Alaskan attorney general has expressed an opinion that betting on the outcome of computer games is covered by the current laws – though this is only an advisory at this point.

The quirkiest ways in which the residents of Alaska gamble is via their charity gaming laws. These allow some cool bets including oddities like guessing how many cans of salmon will pass through a port, when the first Crane of the summer will arrive and on the timing of dog mushing contests. There are also limited charity gambling opportunities, and social poker home-games are considered to be within the law, as long as nobody is making a profit from raking the pots or hosting the games.

What Forms Of Gambling Are Currently Legal In Alaska?

This section contains a quick run-through on a game-by-game basis of the forms of gambling which are legal or banned in each state.

Casino Games: No, there are no licensed casinos in Alaska, and even the few tribal / native establishments are restricted to bingo and ‘pull tab’ games. Residents often enjoy cruises which offer casino gambling while in international waters or off of the coast of Canada.

Online Casinos: No, the State believes that casino gambling is covered by their existing laws. There is no recorded enforcement activity against online gamblers.

Live Poker: No, there are no poker rooms or regulated live poker games in this state. Home poker games are permitted provided they are social games where no ‘house’ or individual is making a profit.

Online Poker: No, there are no regulated online poker games in Alaska, nor have there been any bills or public discussions on this topic. I do not see this State as a candidate for future regulated online poker.

Sports Betting: No, there are no land-based sports books or racetracks in this state. Their charity gambling legislation does allow some quasi-sports gambling opportunities. For example you can guess the timing of dog-mushing (sled race) contests, with the closest guess winning a prize – or bet on salmon fishing contests.

Lottery Betting: No, Alaska does not have a State lottery nor participate in any intra-State scheme. The closest they get is ‘Pull Tab’ games, which are paper based lotto type cards. You pull open perforated tabs to reveal symbols that determine your prize – like a lower tech version of a scratch card.

Bingo Halls: Yes, though very few, these are run by native groups or charitable organizations under the restrictive charity gambling laws.

Alaska Gambling Laws – Key Statutes and How These Relate To Current Gambling Laws

With so little gambling allowed in this State, there is no real history to take you through. What the current laws do is paint a very broad picture of what gambling means – and then make the whole thing illegal. Here are some choice quotes from the Alaska State Legislature, which highlight this:

(1) “contest of chance” means a contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device in which the outcome depends in a material degree upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that the skill of the contestants may also be a factor; (2) “gambling” means that a person stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under the person’s control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that that person or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome; “gambling” does not include (goes on to list amusement devices with no real prizes). (Source Alaskan Statutes 2013, AS 11.66.270)
Note that the skill of contestants is included in the first definition, this effectively rules out the use of the ‘skill game’ argument for poker.

Charity Gambling

There are carve-outs for charity gambling in the Alaskan laws, which include those all-important bets on when the first Crane (bird) will arrive, how fast your favorite dog sledding team completes the course, and who will catch the season’s first salmon. Licenses for charity gambling in Alaska are issued and controlled by the Tax authority under very strict guidelines.

Tribal Lands

The reason that there are no casinos on Indian reservations in Alaska is that these areas do not fit the definition of ‘Indian Lands’, which can tax independently. There was a big test case in 1998 which reaffirmed this status, and still creates the president today. See Alaska v The Native Village of Venetie for more information on this case. While the tribes would love to have their own casinos, they are restricted to low-prize Bingo games and pull-tab cards for the time being.

Alaska Gambling Laws – Summary of the Current Status + Future Plans

I can’t see things changing any time soon in Alaska. The lawmakers seem satisfied with the status-quo and the tribes have yet to find any new legal avenues to create Casino on their native lands. Online gambling does not fit with the general theme for this State – in fact I would imagine residents would prefer to stay under the radar with this and not have it tested or deliberately bought into the regulatory framework.

Who knows whether Alaska will one day capitalize on their charitable dog mushing betting games and make this into the latest internet betting phenomenon?

Useful Resources:

Annual Report of Gaming Group Operations (Taxation)

Case: Alaska v The Native Village Of Venetie


Attorney General Position on Computer Gambling

Charity Gaming Government Site