Back in the days of the Old West, Idaho was considered something of a hotbed of gambling. Gold rush speculators, arriving here in droves to seek their fortune, fell over themselves to gamble at the locally regulated casinos, which popped up like wildfires across the state. How times have changed.
These days, the Gem State offers very little in the way of legalized gambling opportunities. Sure, there’s the immensely popular state lottery and some (heavily regulated) bingo fun to be had but, aside from that, offerings are limited largely to pari-mutuel sports betting and some modest electronic casino games provided by tribal casinos.
Though there is no specific legislation banning online gambling in Idaho, the state’s definition of gambling is broad enough to effectively cover internet gambling within its all-encompassing terms. In short, it's not allowed.
That doesn't seem like it will change anytime soon. Voters rejected a proposed historic horse racing measure in 2018, cutting off another potential gambling opportunity. Future efforts are unlikely.
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As gambling legislation goes, Idaho’s prohibition stands at the broader end of the spectrum. As well as prohibiting games of chance that include elements of skill, it specifically mentions poker, a game that tends to generate the greatest discussion in the skill-versus-luck debate.
Here’s the definition, according to Chapter 38, 18-3801:
“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…”
While this statement makes no direct reference to online gambling, it’s easy to see how its broad working could be applied to internet-based play. There are no certified legal online betting options for now in Idaho and little momentum to change that in the foreseeable future.
Social casinos are available and legal in Idaho, though, both on the internet or as an app, and feature all the popular casino games, including slots, blackjack, video poker and roulette. It is free to play. While you cannot win money playing games at social casinos, the sites like WinStar, LuckyLand and Chumba casino typically offer sweepstakes (games of chance) with prizes that can include real money jackpots.
Because it is mentioned specifically in the state’s anti-gambling legislation, it is illegal to play poker in Idaho. Even social poker games are prohibited. The authorities used to be very proactive about enforcing this legislation, famously busting a group of retirees who dared to play a casual small-stakes game back in 2011. The fallout from that incident, spearheaded by a large public outcry, led to a modest relaxation in the government’s approach. It is now widely believed that small home-games are unlikely to receive a similar response, even though they are still technically illegal. That being said, online players on illegal offshore sites shouldn't try their luck.
Pool and billiards notwithstanding, sports betting in Idaho is pretty much restricted to pari-mutuel betting on horse and greyhound races, including live simulcast events. This type of wagering comes from the French term “pari-mutuel” meaning “mutual betting”. It’s pretty straightforward in that it collects all bets of a certain type together in a pool then calculates the payoff odds by working out how the pool will be shared among all the winning players.
Other than that, there are no legal options in person or online for sports like baseball, basketball and football. State lawmakers have shown little interest in changing that anytime soon.
Idaho is one of a dwindling number of states that prohibits operators from offering paid daily fantasy sports to its citizens. However, this hasn’t always been the case. Not long ago, industry leaders like DraftKings and Fanduel were more than welcome to advertise and operate in the Gem State. Everything changed in 2016, though, when Attorney General Lawrence Wasden concluded “paid daily sports offerings... constitute gambling under Idaho law”. While it’s possible this stance may change in the future, few believe it will be anytime soon. Daily fantasy sites are blocked in the state because of this.
Voters shoot down a proposed measure to allow historic horse racing, another blow to a state without much gambling to begin with.
Idaho residents are permitted to place pari-mutuel bets on historical horse races, for entertainment purposes (i.e. race night themed events) only.
Authorities amend horse racing laws to allow simulcasting of races at locations other than the race venue. Only a small number of licenses (eight at time of writing) for off-track pari-mutuel horse race betting have been issued to date.
A law allowing tribal casinos to feature video game-style machines on their casino floors is passed.
The Coeur d’Alene Casino and Hotel is opened by the Coeur d’Alene tribe. Though it only offers a simple bingo hall, it proves to be popular. Other tribes follow suit.
Statutes specific to bingo and raffles are added to cover charitable gambling activities (this included duck races, too).
State lottery begins. Lottery games would grow to become hugely popular, so much so that a whole host of inter-state games would soon become available.
Authorities introduce the Horse Racing Act, permitting gamblers to take part in pari-mutuel betting at racetracks, and at county fairs where races are held.
Slots are banned across the state. The legislation went into effect on January 1, 1954 and has been in place ever since.
Boise bans casino table games, a move that leads to the creation of Garden City, a small strip of land with legalized gambling outside the city. This initiative backfires badly though, leading directly to the implementation of the legislation that enforces the state-wide ban to this day.
Casinos regulated by individual towns and cities spring up to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of gold-rush speculators who enjoy gambling with their often considerable profits.
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