Minnesota Poker & Betting Laws

Is Betting & Online Poker Legal In The State Of Minnesota?

Minnesota has a history of gambling going all the way back to their indigenous tribes, though things have only really got moving in the last 60 years. What stands out here is the huge scope and size of the charity gambling area – and the progressive expansion of tribal gaming activities. Horse-racing has also been a popular entertainment industry in this State. This article covers the Minnesota Gambling laws in detail.

First up below you can read a quick-fire historical account of the development of gambling in this State, including the constant tussles with the tribes. After that I have gone through the different games one-by-one, outlining the status of each. More detail can be found below that, with some key excerpts from the statutes and a timeline of legal events. Finally I have brought it all together in a quick summary, and added my own thoughts on what might be next for Minnesota.

Minnesota Gambling Laws – A Brief History

Charity bingo and raffle type games were legalized back in 1945 here, and now make up a billion-dollar industry in their own right. Each establishment needs to be licensed, and the stakes and prizes are kept low. The scope of these games has grown over the years to include pull-tab games and more recently electronic versions of lottery or pull-tabs. In the most recent development, remote (tablet device) pull tabs will be allowed at football stadiums under the charity gambling laws.

There are several tribes sharing the land in Minnesota and they have not been shy about taking their right to host gambling games to court. This started in the early 1980’s when high-stakes bingo parlors were introduced on native land. These have since expanded to include video gaming, blackjack and non-banked card games like poker too. Outside of the tribes there are no land-based casinos, with regulation and licensing for these regularly shot down in the Senate. Only video games and non-banked table games (poker rooms) at racetracks are available. There are no active bills or plans to change this as of 2014.

Horse racing is legal here, though the pari-mutuel betting was introduced later than in many States – coming into law in the 1980’s compared to the 1920’s or 1930’s. There is also a popular lottery.

Social games are explicitly excluded from the gambling laws, which are considered very broad in their definitions. If the prizes are under $200, and nobody profits from running the game, then you are free to enjoy social games in private. Texas Holdem is specifically mentioned as a permitted game.

What the MN Statutes are very clear about is this: If it is not specifically mentioned as being legal under our laws, then it is not.

Minnesota Gambling Laws – An Overview Of What Games Are Legal

Casino Games: Yes, Minnesota has many tribal casinos who offer video lottery type games, slots and Blackjack, you can also find games at the racetracks.

Online Casinos: No, the closest would be remote electronic pull-tab games within designated locations (racetracks). This is not exactly online gambling as we know it, though does set a president in some ways.

Live Poker: Yes, but limited in scope. There are poker rooms at casinos, and charity poker tournaments are popular. Texas Holdem is singled out in a skill game exemption under Minnesota law. As long as nobody is making a profit hosting the game and the prizes are no more than $200, you should be just fine.

Online Poker: No, there are no discussions on this area at the moment, though the generally progressive attitude towards gambling lead some people to believe that MN makes a good candidate for a future wave of regulated poker games once things are proven to be working (and generating revenue) elsewhere.

Sports Betting: Yes, pari-mutuel betting on horse racing is big business here including simulcast betting on races in other States.

Lottery Betting: Yes, a popular lottery has been running since 1972, this includes multi-State games.

Bingo Games: Yes, there is a huge charitable gambling tradition in this State, this includes bingo, keno, raffles, poker and casino nights.

Minnesota Gambling Laws – Timeline And Key Statutes

The laws take the ‘if we do not make it explicitly legal, then it is illegal’ route to their gambling laws – with the making of a bet more important than whether a game is of chance, skill or some combination of those two. Private social bets are explicitly excluded, as are charity gambling, licensed lotteries and pari-mutuel sports betting at licensed racetracks.

Here is the definition of a bet, unfortunately this does make the ‘game of skill’ defense difficult:

Subd. 2. Bet. A bet is a bargain whereby the parties mutually agree to a gain or loss by one to the other of specified money, property or benefit dependent upon chance although the chance is accompanied by some element of skill.

Subd. 10. Game. A game means any game played with cards, dice, equipment, or any mechanical or electronic device or machine for money or other value, whether or not approved by law, and includes, but is not limited to: card and dice games of chance, slot machines, banking or percentage games, video games of chance, sports pools, pari-mutuel betting, and race book.

Game” does not include any private social bet.


Below is the timeline of legal events which have shaped the Minnesota gambling landscape:

The timeline of gambling activity in this State goes back to the native settlers. When the first statutes were signed, there were a lot of private lotteries around – many of which were corrupt. This lead to specific anti-lottery wording, and bans of gambling in general in many States, and Minnesota was no exception here.

The more recent part of the timeline starts with horse-racing and charity gambling. Included in this timeline are numerous attempts to set up regulated land-based casinos – none of these have passed as of 2014.

1945: Charity bingo laws introduced.

1947: Mechanical slot machines had become hugely popular during the 1940’s were outlawed by Governor Luther Youngdahl.

1972: State lottery begins.

1981: First high-stakes Bingo parlors appear on Indian lands. This date also marks the beginning point of decades of legal challenges and counter-challenges between Minnesota and its Native tribes.

1983: Pari-mutuel betting at racetracks approved after attempts lasting more than 5 years. The first racetrack to take advantage of this, Canterbury Downs, opens two years later in 1985.

1986: Video gaming machines appear in Tribal Casinos.

1989: After years of legal wrangling, the State signs compacts (agreements) with 7 tribes allowing video gambling. This year also saw the beginning of Simulcast live betting on games from out of State.

1991: Compacts with tribes extended to include Blackjack

1999: ‘Unbanked’ card games allowed at Canterbury downs (this is mostly poker), card room opens 1 year later.

2012: Electronic gambling devices allowed at football Stadiums. This is in line with the charitable gambling laws and involves electronic pull-tab games (similar to slots). The cash raised will be used to fund Stadium development.

Minnesota Gambling Laws – Summary And Look To The Future

It is a case of the Tribes saving the day when it comes to gambling here. Without them you would only have racetracks and charity or social games. The tribal casinos add a new layer of choice and offer a lot of different games nowadays.

Looking to the future, there are mixed messages from recent legislative sessions. On one hand the remote pull-tab video games that will be introduced into football stadiums are an encouraging sign. On the other hand this State has failed to agree on a single land-based casino for many years, with the tribes holding a near-monopoly as a result. It is unclear whether this is the profile of a State who would willingly regulate online poker games – though once other States prove the model to be tax generating, the possibility is not closed.

Useful Resources:

Gambling Timeline

Gambling Statutes

  • http://mn.gov/gcb/StatuteAndRules.htm

US Gambling Law Summary

Another Interesting History