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Idaho In No Hurry to Discuss Online Gambling

Excluding Hawaii and Utah, which have no forms of legalized gambling, Idaho was the second-to-last state to legalize gambling within its borders. Offering pari-mutuel betting, the Idaho Lottery, and seven tribal casinos where gamblers can try their luck at slot machines, bingo, video poker, and off-track horse betting, Idaho seems content with its current forms of gambling that are allowed by state law. Although online gambling would seemingly boost revenue for any state, the Idaho legislature has not yet taken too much of an interest in Internet gambling, which, as in most other states, is surely happening in homes across Idaho anyway.

In December, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice had a change of heart and reversed its decision on the 1961 Wire Act, finding that Internet gambling was illegal as it pertained only to betting on sports, and not other forms of online gambling, such as lotteries, casinos and poker. This reversal paved the way for legislators in popular gambling-friendly states such as New Jersey and Nevada to begin serious discussions on legalizing online gambling and working out how best to benefit from the multi-billion dollar industry. But Jeff Anderson, executive director of the Idaho Lottery, wants no part of it for the Spud State. Anderson said that the current structure of the state’s lottery, as well as existing land-based gambling, should be taken care of first. “We want to make sure that we’re sensitive to the brick and mortar [lottery retailers and tribal gaming interests].”

Two of Idaho’s state representatives seem to be in agreement with Anderson. Rep. Vito Barbieri and Rep. Marv Hagedorn understand other states’ desires to push ahead with legislation to legalize online gambling because of the potential revenue benefit, but they also recognize the difference in the environments of those states and their own. “I don’t think it is possible in Idaho, at least not in the present (political) environment”, Barbieri said. “It seems to me there are too many other issues right now that have got the Legislature pretty much involved and I don’t think that online gambling is going to be something that will come up this session.” However, Barbieri didn’t rule out the possibility of looking at online gambling as a revenue boost sometime in the future. Hagedorn thinks the state should concentrate more on its own natural resources and tap into something that is not available in other states. “We need to think outside the box and not follow the crowd in how we look for revenue.”[1]

In 2010, Idaho lawmakers did take a second look at specific wording of a state law that forbade poker in a social setting after a senior citizens’ center’s weekly poker game, which had been ongoing for about five years, was “busted up” by Idaho police. The arrest created quite an uproar in the state because prosecutors did not want to prosecute the old codgers who were playing a low-stakes friendly game to pass the time in their waning years, but the law specified that prosecutors who chose not to enforce anti-gambling laws on the books would themselves be guilty of a misdemeanor. Sen. Kate Kelly sponsored a change in the state law that would give prosecutors discretion when investigating accusations of gambling rather than prosecutors being charged with a crime if the issue was not prosecuted. “We have elected prosecutors in Idaho, and they make decisions every day about whether or not to pursue a particular defendant or whether or not to pursue a particular act. And I think we can support that rather than exposing them to be subject to a crime for failing to prosecute.”[2]

Poker, as it currently stands in terms of Idaho state law, is considered a game of chance, rather than a game of skill, as it is defined in some states’ laws. That wording alone gives the likelihood of poker legislation, online or otherwise, a tough hill to climb. Though playing live poker is against the law in Idaho and none of the state’s tribal casinos have any poker rooms, there is nothing in the law that prohibits playing poker on the Internet. However, the Gem State’s small population of roughly 1.5 million and the fact that there is “very little history of poker in the state,” means that “there may not be enough demand to justify an online poker room opening in Idaho.”[3]

Idaho’s On, Off, And On Again History of Gambling

Gambling was very popular in Idaho in the 1930’s and 40’s. The Christiana Club, located in the town of Ketchum in Idaho’s Sun Valley, was a gambling hotspot. Other clubs, such as Alpine and the Sawtooth Club and Casino, all offered slot machines, roulette and dice. At that time, state law allowed cities and towns to decide whether gambling was legal, and several towns cashed in. The clubs thrived for more than a decade, until Idaho outlawed table gaming in 1949. Slot machines and just about every other form of gambling was outlawed in 1953, which forced the clubs to close down.[4]

Idaho eventually softened its stance and began allowing pari-mutuel wagering on horses in 1963, and charitable gambling followed shortly thereafter. Then, in 1986, the Idaho Lottery was formed. Sort of. Despite passing 60 percent to 40 percent by the citizens of the Spud State, the lottery was struck down and declared unconstitutional by the Idaho Supreme Court. Two years later, legislators gave the green light to allow voters to approve an amendment to the Idaho state constitution that would repeal the lottery ban. The amendment passed with 51 percent of the vote. Since its first ticket sold in July 1989, the lottery has generated more than $546 million for the State of Idaho. Between 1990 and 2011, the Idaho Lottery has given $510.8 million to Idaho Public Schools and the Permanent Building Fund.[5]

Like many other states, Idaho is home to tribal casinos. Many tribes have battled since the early 1990s to offer casino gambling in addition to high-stakes bingo. But in 1997, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Northern Idaho went above and beyond what any other casinos were offering when they launched a nationwide lottery using telephones and the Internet. Federal and state lawsuits, along with little to no profit, caused the tribe to shut the lottery down. Today, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe runs one of seven Class II casinos across the Gem state.

Future Of Online Gambling In Idaho Appears Stagnant

While other gambling-friendly states are busy discussing the hows, whys, and what-ifs in bills aimed at legalizing online gambling, the legislators of Idaho don’t seem to be in as much a hurry to discuss the possible additional revenue the state could rake in by passing such legislation. Although residents at the Senior Center can now probably get away with low-stakes poker without the threat of prosecution, most Idaho residents will have to be content with tribal casinos, horse and dog racing, and the various games offered by the state lottery. As the second-to-last state to legalize gambling in modern times other than Utah and Hawaii, it can be fully expected that Idaho will also be among the last states to act upon Internet gambling legislation.

[1] Idaho unlikely to legislate online gambling any time soon – The Idaho Reporter
[2] Idaho changes state gambling laws after senior’s poker game is raided
[3] Idaho state poker laws –
[4] Information on the old Christiania Club in Idaho –
[5] A history of the Idaho state lottery – Idaho Lottery Official Website