The first thing that stands out is that, unlike just about every other state, Montana’s gambling statutes are not included in their criminal code, but are listed in a separate title called “Parks, Recreation, Sports, and Gambling.” (1)
While there are still criminal penalties attached to certain gambling violations, the fact that they group all of the gambling statutes with these other matters of recreation says a great deal about this state’s approach to gambling, which is to control it, and this section certainly does that.
Montana’s gambling statutes are for the most part administrative though, prescribing the conditions in which gambling is considered acceptable, through a number of regulations. This intention is very well expressed in the opening statement in this section which addresses what Montana’s gambling statutes set to achieve:
“23-5-110 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.” (2)
So the goal here is to ensure the proper gambling environment, not to try to rid the state of gambling period, and this is very noteworthy.
Montana does have its own definition of gambling, which is “risking any money, credit, deposit, check, property, or any other thing of value for gain that is contingent in whole or in part upon lot, chance, or the operation of a gambling device or gambling enterprise.” (3)
What This All Means As Far As Playing Poker Goes
So this would include poker under any reasonable reading, as poker is contingent in part upon chance. What this means in Montana is that poker played for money or anything of value is subject to regulation by the state, in other words they will prescribe how this form of gambling is to take place in order for it to be legal.
Here’s the rub though, and it’s a pretty big one. The laws of Montana address and regulate gambling enterprises, including internet gambling enterprises, as opposed to prohibiting the act of gambling specifically.
While running an internet gambling operation in Montana may be found to be illegal, the fact is that there are internet gambling enterprises outside the jurisdiction of Montana that players from Montana can play at. Otherwise, the law does prescribe in detail what types of gambling enterprises are allowed in the state, and deems any gambling enterprise not authorized by state law as illegal, but once again out of state enterprises cannot be included here since the state of Montana has no say in the matter, especially if these enterprises are hosted in other countries, as they are.
Keep in mind that Montana’s gambling laws are included in administrative law and not in the criminal code, since they are all regulatory in nature. For instance, they prescribe the maximum pot size at $800, only cash is allowed, as well as a number of other conditions.
I have read elsewhere that only specific forms of gambling are legal in Montana and what is not specifically made legal is illegal, but the mistake made here is to substitute the word gambling for what the law actually speaks to, which is gambling enterprises, not gambling in general.
Let’s now have a look at the section dealing with the prohibition of gambling, “Gambling Prohibited,” which states that “except as specifically authorized by statute, all forms of public gambling, lotteries, and gift enterprises are prohibited.” (4)
So this is limited to “public gambling,” which “means gambling conducted in (a) a place, building, or conveyance to which the public has access or may be permitted to have access, (b) a place of public resort, including but not limited to a facility owned, managed, or operated by a partnership, corporation, association, club, fraternal order, or society, including a religious or charitable organization, or (c) a place, building, or conveyance to which the public does not have access if players are publicly solicited or the gambling activity is conducted in a predominantly commercial manner.”
Playing Poker In Montana
So from this definition we can see that this would not apply to what we would consider to be home games, or any form of gambling occurring in what we would not normally consider to be a public place, unless the participants were publicly solicited or the game was organized as part of a commercial enterprise.
Montana poker players can also play at one of the 17 licensed poker rooms around the state, which pretty much all are small operations but there are a lot of them to choose among. (5)
Online Poker in Montana?
As far as internet poker goes, it is conducted in a private place of course, and if one’s home is not considered a private place then no place would be. The last provision, the part about the gambling activity not being conducted in a predominantly commercial manner, is a potentially sticker one, and this comes down to how we are to understand the term gambling activity, is this the activity of the persons present, as we would normally think, or does it extend to the entire activity, including activity outside the state?
It is possible that this may be interpreted as extending to playing poker online at home in private if the game is a commercial one and therefore deeming it to be public gambling, even though the gambling activity as it occurs in Montana does not include any commercial elements.
So playing online may be illegal on this basis even though it’s a bit of a stretch and not really that consistent with the rest of the law here, which otherwise is exclusively focused on regulation. There has yet to be any ruling or clarification on this though and players from Montana continue to play online with no resistance.
Those who wish to play online can select from any of the online poker operations that offer poker to Americans in general, as none of these sites have any qualms whatsoever with accepting residents of Montana.
Among these choices are our top 2 recommended online poker sites for Montana residents, which are of course Ignition Poker and America’s Cardroom. These are two very good poker rooms and well worth your time checking out, click on our links to our reviews of them to learn more.
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