Legal North Dakota Casinos, Poker & Betting

An Overview Of The Gambling Laws In North Dakota

North Dakota has one of the smallest populations of any State, however their residents are served very well by Tribal casinos. Outside of the tribal lands you will find the gambling laws in this State fairly restrictive, with charity gambling being the biggest focus. Lottery and limited horse-racing bets are also allowed. This article gives you a complete overview of the North Dakota gambling laws.

First of all below, a rapid-fire trip through the history of gambling legislation in North Dakota that will bring you right up to the present day. After that you will find a game-by-game listing of what you can and can’t do gambling-wise in this State. After that you can read a detailed look into the laws, with both excerpts from the statutes and a legal timeline. At the end of this page you will find a summary and a look at the possible future scenarios.

North Dakota Gambling Laws – A Brief History

As the States go, North Dakota were late to adopt any type of gambling. The blanket ban on games involving any element of chance was intact until 1976, when the first charitable gambling carve-out was put into place. This exempted bingo games and allowed fund-raisers to hold limited gambling activities – as long as each event was individually licensed. This was expanded in 1987. North Dakota went on to become one of the biggest charity-gambling States per head of population, with good causes, education and veterans organizations the main beneficiaries.

Pari-Mutuel sports-betting is allowed at the racetracks in this State. However the small population does not currently support more than a few live events per year. Charities can create pools for sporting events as part of their licensed activities – though with strict caps on the total amount bet.

Casino gambling started its dramatic rise on Tribal lands in 1992, when the first compacts between the five major tribes and the State government were signed. With further compacts coming in 1999 and 2013, the Casinos have been able to attract investment and now offer the top-rated (class 3) games. You’ll find table games as well as slots on Tribal lands, though there is still some tension between the State and the Tribes over high-stakes bingo games. The State would like to keep this area within the Charity remit, while the Tribes argue that it is within their constitutional right to spread these games.

Poker is available in the Casinos, including cash game and tournament play. You can legally enjoy social home games, as long as the stakes are small and nobody is profiting from running the games. The maximum bet amount of $25 kills off the action for all but the smallest games, however there is no history of legal enforcement for these games. In 2005, legislation was proposed which would have legalized online poker games for this State. While this was defeated in the Senate by a huge majority, it is interesting to see that an otherwise conservative State at least looked into pioneering online gambling laws.

The final form of gambling is a State lottery, which is restricted to the drawing games.

What Forms Of Gambling Are Currently Legal?

Casino Gaming: Yes, there are many tribes in North Dakota, and they have built multiple casinos on their reservations, these offer class 3 games (table games, poker, slots). There are currently no commercial casinos available.

Online Casinos: No, as with many States, there is no explicit wording banning internet gambling on the statutes – however the current laws are considered to have broad enough definitions to cover this activity.

Live Poker: Yes, this is available in poker rooms within the Tribal casinos. Social home-games are also carved out under State law, though with a maximum betting limit per hand of just $25. You can also enjoy charity poker tournaments, though these require an individual license.

Online Poker: No, again this is covered by the general gambling statutes – there are currently no discussions concerning a regulated poker environment.

Sports Betting: Yes, there is pari-mutuel betting on horse racing for live events, including placing of bets remotely. This is handled under the charity gambling laws in this State, and several other niche sports betting pools can be enjoyed as long as they are individually licensed.

Lottery Betting: Yes, there is a State lottery, however this only covers the drawing games and not the common scratch-off cards or terminal betting.

Bingo Gaming: Yes, bingo is allowed under the Charity gambling carve-out (along with many other forms of gambling), at the moment there is a dispute between the State and the Tribes over running high-stakes bingo games on native lands.

North Dakota Gambling Laws – Timeline And Key Statutes

This State is liberal when it comes to charity gambling and restrictive when it comes to commercial endeavors. Without the tribal casinos, this would probably be one of those States (like North Carolina) who only allow small stakes social games, the occasional fund-raiser and blanket ban everything else.

Here are the key excerpts from the North Dakota Statutes. They use the game of chance terms, and clarify this by stating that even a small amount of chance constitutes gambling, this effectively rules out the ‘Skill game’ argument often put forward by expert poker players.

“ “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.” (From 12.1-28-01)

Here are the key legal events in chronological order:

1976: Carve out begins for charitable gambling on bingo and raffle type games.

1987: Pari-mutuel wagering allowed on horse races, this is tied in with the ‘good causes’.

1992: First compacts agreed with the five Indian tribes, and the first casinos open their doors.

1999: Compacts renegotiated for another 10 years, this allowed the tribes to secure financing for expansion and upgrades of their casinos.

2002: Constitutional amendment made to allow a State lottery, this would not include scratch-off or pull-tab type tickets, with only the main drawing games permitted.

2005: A bill to legalize online poker was introduced by Representative James Kasper. Interestingly, this pre-dated the UIGEA, which outlawed gambling financial transactions. This bill did not make it to law, being defeated by a huge 44 to 3 majority in the North Dakota Senate.

2013: Updated tribal compacts signed allowing for the continuation of class 3 casino gaming on tribal lands.

North Dakota Gambling Laws – Summary And Look To The Future

Unless you are gambling for charity, or happy to travel to native lands, North Dakota is not the most gambling-friendly of States. Their broad definition of ‘games of chance’ covers just about all eventualities.

Looking to the future there is little evidence that North Dakota will be an early adopter of regulated online gambling. While a successful roll out in other States might lead to the subject at least being discussed, the lack of any real commercial gambling activity outside the charitable sector does not bode well for this kind of law being passed any time in the near future.

Useful Resources:

Indian Research Group

Statutes (PDF)

Gambling Laws US

Indian Gaming History


Attorney General Website – Links To Gaming Regulations And Resources