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Recreational Gambling Laws State by State: Minnesota to Oregon...By Hartley Henderson

Minnesota One would expect the state of former governor Jesse Ventura to be fairly liberal in its gambling laws relating to casual bettors. Looking at the laws it appears that is indeed the case. While the laws are fairly harsh on those in the gambling business, it is very lenient to recreational gamblers. The law states that those who place a bet are guilty of a misdemeanour and subject to a fine, but it also clearly excludes social bets among individuals and bets with individuals that are not tied to organized crime. In the area of sports betting, while the bookie is guilty of a felony, the law excuses the bookie if the amount of bets total less than $2,500 in a 30 day period. For other betting, if someone in the betting business takes bets worth less than $2,500 they are guilty of a misdemeanour and subject to a fine, but if the amount is more than $2,500 they are guilty of a felony.

So for the recreational bettor, it is clear that in Minnesota as long as the bettor is not betting with the mob, they are not guilty of any crime. Since there is no mention whatsoever in the law about online wagering one can assume that betting online in Minnesota is not against the law either.

Mississippi Mississippi's laws for the casual bettor are fairly straightforward. Anyone who places bets made outside of racetracks, riverboats or state sanctioned clubs are guilty of a misdemeanour offence and subject to a fine of no more than $500. There is no mention of internet wagering in their laws, but the state clearly does not allow social betting between individuals which would make one assume that betting on the internet was implied in the state's laws as well. Mississippi is most concerned with those who are illegally selling lottery tickets and pools and the state specifies penalties accordingly. Looking at past state convictions I couldn't find one instance of an individual convicted for placing "illegal" wagers, so it seems the recreational gambler is safe to wager online from Mississippi.

Missouri Like many states Missouri lists simple gambling (i.e. recreational gambling) as a misdemeanour offence and subject to a fine and/or short prison sentence. As long as the person wagers small amounts, however, the state isn't concerned as can be implied from the following sentence within the state statutes:

"A person who gambles at a social game of chance on equal terms with the other participants therein does not otherwise render material assistance to the establishment."

There are no recent arrests that can be found for the recreational gambler. The same, however, is not true for the professional gambler, regardless of the method in which he/she makes his/her money. According to the state statutes, if a gambler makes at least 20% of their income from gambling activities then they are deemed to be professional gamblers and are subject to a felony conviction with jail time. There is no mention in the state statutes about internet wagering.

Montana Montana, like Louisiana has somehow determined that it is their duty to protect the public from themselves and has stated a long preamble to the statutes to justify why they are taking gambling so seriously. The state contends that gambling is against public morals as follows: Public policy of state concerning gambling. (1) The legislature finds that for the purpose of ensuring the proper gambling environment in this state it is necessary and desirable to adopt a public policy regarding public gambling activities in Montana. The legislature therefore declares it is necessary to: (a) create and maintain a uniform regulatory climate that assures players, owners, tourists, citizens, and others that the gambling industry in this state is fair and is not influenced by corrupt persons, organizations, or practices; (b) protect legal public gambling activities from unscrupulous players and vendors and detrimental influences; (c) protect the public from unscrupulous proprietors and operators of gambling establishments, games, and devices; (d) protect the state and local governments from those who would conduct illegal gambling activities that deprive those governments of their tax revenues; (e) protect the health, safety, and welfare of all citizens of this state, including those who do not gamble, by regulating gambling activities; and (f) promote programs necessary to provide assistance to those who are adversely affected by legalized gambling, including compulsive gamblers and their families. The Montana constitution also states the following:

"All forms of gambling, lotteries, and gift enterprises are prohibited unless authorized by acts of the legislature or by the people through initiative or referendum." That said, anyone who gambles in Montana is subject only to a misdemeanour which does not include jail time. Clearly, the DAs of Montana are far more concerned with those in the gambling business and 99% of the 3 page long statute deals with those in the gambling business. In fact the state even has specific exclusions for gamblers who wager among each other socially and for those who play at senior's homes. The state does mention internet wagering specifically within its laws, but again it seems to be geared towards those in the internet wagering business and more specifically to banks. It would appear the state has tried to set a policy which aligns itself with the UIGEA. The following is the wording of that internet clause: 18) (a) "Internet gambling", by whatever name known, includes but is not limited to the conduct of any legal or illegal gambling enterprise through the use of communications technology that allows a person using money, paper checks, electronic checks, electronic transfers of money, credit cards, debit cards, or any other instrumentality to transmit to a computer information to assist in the placing of a bet or wager and corresponding information related to the display of the game, game outcomes, or other similar information.

(b) The term does not include the operation of a simulcast facility allowed by Title 23, chapter 4, or the state lottery provided for in Title 23, chapter 7. If all aspects of the gaming are conducted on Indian lands in conformity with federal statutes and with administrative regulations of the national Indian gaming commission, the term does not include class II gaming or class III gaming as defined by 25 U.S.C. 2703. Since gambling by the bettor himself is not specifically outlawed in the UIGEA, one can assume that the bettor is safe in Montana.

Nebraska Nebraska's laws with respect to the recreational bettor are a bit confusing. The statute states that those who profit from betting as a proprietor are guilty of a felony, but it doesn't say much about the bettor himself. The law defines the player as someone who places a wager on any game or future event, but it doesn't actually specify what the penalty is for doing so. The laws clearly stipulate penalties for accepting wagers, but not for placing bets. That being the case, it can be assumed that recreational gambling is recognized by the state, but there is no intention by Nebraska police to prosecute anyone for engaging in betting as a recreational activity.

Nevada One would expect Nevada to be pretty liberal with its gambling laws since Las Vegas is the largest gambling Mecca in the world. However, while the state is only too happy to have citizens and visitors wager within the state, it has very strict laws for Nevada residents that wager elsewhere. The laws of the state specifically make it illegal for a Nevada resident to place a wager outside of the state using the telephone, television, mail, computer or any other similar means. Furthermore, while residents can bet as much as they like within the confines of a casino or licensed establishment, they are guilty of a misdemeanour if they wager among themselves outside of those establishments. The state is also very tough with casinos which try to set up outside of Nevada and take wagers from Americans. Mega$ports, was forced to close its land based operation in Nevada after it set up an online gambling site situated offshore to cater to Americans. Nevada revoked the company's land based license and hit it with a hefty fine. Several Nevada casinos have discussed the idea of setting up internet betting sites to cater specifically to Nevada residents as is permitted within both state and federal law. Thus far though no casino has taken the initiative, likely because they are concerned with the fallout should a non-Nevada resident hack into their site and place wagers from another state, or even worse from another country.

Nevada congresswoman Shelley Berkley has spearheaded a study to look at the possibility of legalizing and regulating internet wagering for all U.S. states.

New Hampshire The laws of New Hampshire make it a misdemeanour crime to place a bet recreationally that is not sanctioned by the state. Anyone who is in the business of taking bets is guilty of a felony. Thus far I have not been able to find a single incidence of a recreational gambler that was arrested for placing a bet in New Hampshire. There is no mention of internet betting in the state's statutes.

New Jersey Like Nevada, New Jersey has a large economy based on betting, particularly in Atlantic City. Consequently, the laws of the state denote that all gambling is legal provided that it is sanctioned by the state. This includes casinos and racetracks, but it also specifies that charity gambling, social betting in clubs, fraternities, in fire stations and various other venues are legal provided the state allows it.

The most interesting note about New Jersey's statutes is that while it states gambling is illegal by residents where such betting is not sanctioned, it does not lay out any penalties for placing these "illegal bets". Instead the law simply says that all bets not sanctioned by the state are illegal and bettors have the right to recuperate losses. The person taking the bets is guilty of a misdemeanour also. This is an interesting tactic, rather than trying to issue a penalty against the recreational bettor that will never be enforced, the state has decided that the best way to deter illegal betting is to allow the bettors to get the money back for any losses they suffer. This in itself would deter anyone not sanctioned by the state from taking wagers. Whether anyone has tried to recuperate losses from bets placed underground is uncertain, but it is a novel approach.

It should be noted as well that at the 2000 GIGSE conference, an assistant attorney general of New Jersey stated that he was preparing to offer legalized internet wagering from New Jersey and would take bets worldwide. His idea was to place servers on the floors of the casinos where everyone could monitor the play to ensure its legitimacy. The idea was never brought up at any conferences afterwards, likely because of pressure from the U.S. Attorney General to drop the concept.

New Mexico New Mexico's laws are pretty tame with regards to the recreational gambler. The statute indicates that placing a bet is a misdemeanour, but it doesn't specify any penalty. Furthermore, it creates several exemptions to the law including social betting among individuals. There is no mention of internet wagering whatsoever. Consequently, it is safe to assume the recreational bettor has no fears of prosecution in New Mexico.

New York Home state for both of the leading candidates for the 2008 Presidency, New York is a key state for all laws. The state clearly disapproves of individuals who operate a gambling business in the state, as shown by the two major arrests in the state over the last year. The penalty for operating a gambling business or for bookmaking is quite harsh, necessitating a long prison sentence. The recreational gambler, however, is let more or less off the hook. The penalty for simple gambling is a fine, but the law excludes people who gamble with each other socially and there is no mention of gambling on the internet. That said, New York seems to have found a way of ensuring that citizens of its state have great difficulty in placing bets offshore. According to 5 separate readers of my columns that live in New York State, they have noted that telephone calls to most 1-800 numbers for sportsbooks from the state of New York are not connected and ISPs from New York seem to have achieved great success at blocking access to gambling sites. In fact one reader stated that he lived in Massachusetts and had no trouble placing wagers offshore, but since he moved to New York he has given up trying to connect to a site or phone in.

Currently 5 separate state Congressmen have joined forces with Barney Frank to try and have the UIGEA overturned. I have sent emails and faxes to Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani to find out their stance on the issue of online gambling and hopefully will receive some response.

North Carolina North Carolina may be best known for NASCAR, basketball and universities and hence one would expect to see stiff penalties for betting on sports. But such is not the case. In fact there is nothing in North Carolina's laws that mention the individual bettors. Gambling infractions all relate to those in the gambling business and the only reference to the recreational bettor is that all gambling contracts placed in the state of North Carolina are null and void and bettors can sue to get back losses. There is no mention of internet wagering in the state's laws.

North Dakota North Dakota has set a limit as to what constitutes a legal recreational bet. Any bet under $25 is perfectly legal. Any bet between $25 and $500 is deemed "an infraction" and any bet over $500 is a misdemeanour. It is unclear what the penalty for an infraction is in the state, although logic would indicate that it would entail a warning or a small fine, but a misdemeanour is clearly labelled as punishable by a fine or short prison term. Otherwise, the entire gambling statute of North Dakota deals with those in the gambling business. Thus, it would appear that any bettor in North Dakota, whether betting with friends or on the internet should have no concerns with the law. The same, however, is not true with South Dakota as will be seen later.

Ohio While the statute relating to gambling in Ohio is lengthy, it really doesn't say much regarding the casual bettor. It does mention that placing a bet is illegal, but it goes on and on with exceptions to the rule, including but not limited to, social betting, betting to fund religious organizations, betting to fund education, betting to fund fire houses, betting in volunteer, fraternal and veteran's groups, betting to support non profit organizations and betting in senior's homes. So essentially betting is illegal unless you offer something to society, in which case it's OK. The state does clearly disallow bookmaking, however, regardless of who profits. There is no mention of internet wagering in their statutes.

Oklahoma Like most states, Oklahoma gives little mention in its statutes to the recreational gambler. The law seems to focus on those in the gambling business and the penalty for illegally operating a gambling business is a stiff fine or prison time. There is no consideration given in the law for social betting, but there is also no strict prohibition to gambling on the internet.

Oregon Oregon's laws are also focused on those in the gambling business and the penalty is a felony. For the bettor the penalty is fine if convicted, but again I have found no cases of an individual charged with placing a bet. The state also prohibits gambling on sports, although it runs a sports lottery. Oregon does specifically mention internet wagering as an offenc,e but the wording of the offence is a bit confusing. This is the specific part of the statute which disallows internet wagering:

"Internet" means an interactive computer service or system or an information service, system or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server and includes, but is not limited to, an information service, system or access software provider that provides access to a network system commonly known as the Internet, or any comparable system or service and also includes, but is not limited to a World Wide Web page, newsgroup, message board, mailing list or chat area on any interactive computer service or system or other on-line service." Anyone who can decipher that deserves a medal, let alone the ability to gamble online.

The next article will be the conclusion of U.S. State laws and provide a summary of all the states' gambling laws.

Hartley Henderson

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