Even though live poker is authorized in Minnesota, it is only authorized to be offered by and played at racetracks. Therefore there’s a legitimate question as to online poker’s legality. The broad definition of “bet” contained in Minnesota Statutes 609.75(2) is problematic, at best.
That’s because the state outlaws all forms of gambling except for five forms that are expressly authorized by law (poker isn’t one of them). The Minnesota definition of “bet” includes consideration, prize and chance, regardless of whether the element of chance “is accompanied by some element of skill”. Thus Minnesota online poker players can’t argue that poker is a skill game.
An expansive reading of the criminal statutes could also find that an online poker player’s home is a “gambling place” under the law, which would run afoul of MS Section 609.755(4).
As is often the case in the United States, there’s no record of any player ever being prosecuted for playing online poker in Minnesota. However, given the unsettled nature of online poker’s legality in the state, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Minnesota has legalized online lotteries (one of several states to do so at this time) and after a heated debate in 2014 over certain aspects of the online offerings that ended with a bill landing on Governor Mark Dayton’s desk to repeal the online lottery. However, Governor Dayton decided to veto the bill, and at this time Minnesotans can still buy their lottery tickets online.
You can be forgiven if you express any confusion as to why live poker is legal in Minnesota. It is, to be sure. But the statutes governing its legality aren’t found in the usual place.
If you turn to the Minnesota Gambling Control Board and look at the Minnesota Statutes governing gambling, you would almost certainly think poker is illegal. The Minnesota Gambling Control Board reinforces that point in an Illegal Gambling brochure by pointing out that, “any card game where the participants pay to play, and have a chance to win money, would constitute a ‘bet’ and, therefore, be illegal gambling.”
That’s because the organization that governs poker in Minnesota is the Minnesota Racing Commission. If you look at Section 240.30 of the Pari-Mutuel Horse Racing statute, you’ll see that card clubs are authorized at the two state-regulated racetracks, Canterbury Park and Running Aces.
Minnesota also happily allows punters to gamble in the confines of their own homes. Minnesota Statutes Section 609.75(3)(5) provides an exception to the law against gambling for a “private, social bet not part of or incidental to organized, commercialized or systematic gambling”. There is also an exception in the law for Texas Hold’em tournaments that do not have an entry fee and do not award more than $200 in prizes to any individual.
Although there is tribal gaming in Minnesota, the tribes are not authorized to offer live poker.