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Gambling in Idaho - Online and Offline

Idaho

Known more for its world-famous potatoes than any sort of entertainment, you might not expect to find many places to enjoy slots or blackjack in Idaho. But casino gaming is actually alive and well here in the Gem State, where several Native American resorts have been built over the years. There’s even some controversy over the future of gaming in the state, with the Indian tribes hoping to expand on the games they current offer in the near future.

Online Gambling Barely a Thought

Before we look at the live gaming scene, we'll take a brief look at iGaming. Let’s be honest: Idaho is unlikely to be one of the next few states to regulate Internet gambling, nor is it likely to jump on the bandwagon quickly even if the industry picks up momentum throughout the United States. Few legislators have shown any real interest in the prospect of bringing regulated online games to the state, and its small population means that it isn’t going to receive much lobbying attention from outside firms. While Indian gaming is huge here, we are unlikely to see any casinos such as Mohegan Sun online or Resorts Online Casino in New Jersey any time soon.

But despite this situation, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy a virtual casino experience in the state. With no laws preventing individuals from playing on these sites, plenty of Idahoans play at Internet gambling sites every day, thanks to the vast array of reputable offshore operators who take local players.

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Native American Tribes Dominate Scene

Once upon a time, Idaho had a vibrant, if small-scale, gambling industry. Slot machines were allowed for several years around 1950, until the state legislature determined that the games were illegal under the state’s Constitution, which simply stated that there would be no “lottery or gift enterprise” within its borders.

Gambling returned in 1988, when Idaho approved the formation of a lottery after a contentious battle. Two years earlier, a citizen ballot initiative created the lottery, but lawmakers said that it was illegal due to the fact that legislative approval was required to amend the state Constitution (and a lottery was the one specific game banned by that document). The Idaho Supreme Court eventually sided with government officials, but it hardly mattered: legislators quickly came around on the idea, and two years later, the lottery was in place for good.

That move then allowed for the potential of tribal casinos, though only in a limited sense. Federal law allowed Indian tribes to offer the same games being allowed in other parts of the state, meaning that they opened lotteries and bingo halls on their reservations.

At least, that’s what they did at first. By 2002, at least two tribes made a concerted effort to change state law to allow some video gaming machines into their resorts. Once again, the citizens of Idaho approved the change on a ballot measure, and this limited form of machine gaming was allowed – though yet again only after the state attempted to sue to stop the tribes from putting those games into place.

In 2014, the Coeur d’Alene tribe attempted to take these concepts a bit further by opening a poker room at their resort. They pointed to the fact that poker was tacitly allowed throughout Idaho, and that charity games were also approved. They opened the room in May, and were immediately sued by the state, which reaffirmed its belief that poker was illegal here. Courts would eventually rule against the tribe, and it seems that poker will no longer be allowed at the tribe’s facility.

Still, Native American tribes control the only five casinos in Idaho. Here’s a rundown of the venues, as well as the tribes that operate them:

  • Coeur d’Alene (Coeur d’Alene)
  • Clearwater (Nez Perce)
  • It’se Ye Ye (Nez Perce)
  • Fort Hall (Shoshone-Bannock)
  • Kootenai River Inn (Kootenai)

Horse racing is also a fairly popular enterprise here and has been legal there since 1963. The recent infusion of new options has hurt the tracks, but they did receive a boost in 2013 when the state approved “instant horse racing,” a game in which players can put down bets without knowing what horse or race they are betting on. The action is very much like a slot machine – so much so that some legislators and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe say they would like to see them repealed by a new law.

More Legal Battles on the Horizon

Discussions over the future of Idaho’s gambling industry are likely to continue for the foreseeable future, as there remains tension between the state lottery, Native American tribes, and the state government.

One major topic that is bound to be broached is the recent introduction of electronic pull-tab machines by the lottery. So far, the games have proven popular, bringing in more than $21 million in revenue during 2014.

However, they raise an obvious question: why are the “instant horse racing” terminals at tracks getting so much attention, while these have managed to slip under the radar? It’s hard to say, especially since these pull-tab screens came first, but it seems likely that the same backlash could come to them in the near future.

Any expansions of gambling in the state are also going to be watched closely by Indian tribes, which would like to add more gaming options to their resorts as well. While they may have lost in court so far, the Coeur d’Alene aren’t likely to give up on poker easily, and any new games that are offered at tracks or through the lottery will undoubtedly show up on reservations almost immediately.

The one place where nobody expects movement, however, is online. For at least the next few years, only offshore sites will be available in the state, with regulated Internet gaming being a distant hope at best.

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