South Dakota is most famous in poker lore for being the place where famous gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok was shot to death at a saloon in the appropriately named Deadwood, then in the area called the Dakota Territory and now located in South Dakota. (1)
Hickok’s hand, two black aces and two black eights with a down card, still lives on in poker lore almost 140 years later, commonly known as the “dead man’s hand,” the hand Hickok was holding when he was shot dead at the poker table.
There is still a poker room in Deadwood all these years later, although it is not frequented by gunfighters anymore.
So poker has a rich history in South Dakota, and residents can still find poker rooms scattered throughout the state should they look to get into a game, and there are currently a total of 10 poker rooms in the state, although all are pretty small. (2)
So South Dakota does have a decent amount of regulated gambling and poker playing, and are fairly tolerant toward it compared to many states, although they do have some pretty strict gambling laws as well, as we will see as we look at these laws in detail.
South Dakota’s Gambling Laws
The first place to start when looking at a state’s gambling laws is to look at how gambling is defined in a state, and here’s how South Dakota defines it:
“22-25-1. Gambling Defined –Keeping Gambling Establishment–Letting building for gambling–Misdemeanor. Any person who engages in gambling in any form with cards, dice, or other implements or devices of any kind wherein anything valuable is wagered upon the outcome, or who keeps any establishment, place, equipment, or apparatus for such gambling or any agents or employees for such purpose, or any person who knowingly lets any establishment, structure, place, equipment, or apparatus for such gambling is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.” (3)
Some commentators have criticized this definition for not really providing a definition of gambling and just stating that gambling is not permitted, thereby relying on common usage, which is generally not what legislators seek when writing statutes, but if we look closely, the definition of gambling is indeed present here and it is a very broad one.
It does set out that gambling is wagering anything valuable on the outcome of something, which is indeed fairly clear. All wagers placed on the outcome of implements such as cards, dice, or other implements is considered gambling, even though they describe the act as gambling with such implements.
The use of the term gambling here would be the wagering, so that could really be substituted for anyone who places wagers based upon the result of such implements or devices would be gambling, yet this would not add to the meaning because this is exactly what the statute says.
Of course it’s also a crime to run a gambling establishment but this is outside the scope of players.
This also includes the penalty so this just isn’t a definition, it completely spells out the crime and the classification of the offense as well. So the entire anti gambling law in South Dakota, at least as far as gambling with such implements, has been contained quite elegantly in this one brief section.
South Dakota’s Anti-Internet Gambling Laws
South Dakota does have a special section dealing with placing bets or wagers over the internet, but it is directed at those in the “gambling business”:
“Gambling business defined. For the purposes of this chapter, the term gambling business means a business that is conducted at a gambling establishment or involves the placing, receiving, or making of bets or wagers or offers to engage in the placing, receiving, or making of bets or wagers.” (4)
It goes on to state that “no person engaged in a gambling business may use the Internet or an interactive computer service to bet or wager.” (5)
Now this is interesting for a couple of reasons. It’s not totally clear how the term “business” is to be defined here, as it could be construed as applying to anyone who places bets or wagers on the internet. It is probably the case that this is only directed at commercial gambling operators but at the same time this isn’t specified.
Also, if this is to be seen as only applying to running a gambling business, the fact that merely placing bets or wagers on a personal basis isn’t included, when they devote an entire separate section to internet gambling, does say something as well.
While 25-1 seems to prohibit all bets and wagers, it could be construed that this section deals with bets and wagers that are conducted with physical implements, which does prohibit such bets and wagers, and 25A deals with betting and wagers placed on the internet, and there does not seem to be any prohibitions against this unless it is conducted as a business, which does not seem to apply at all to personal betting and wagering, in other words that conducted by players.
So things aren’t clear at all but there is a very good argument here that internet gambling may be not against the law in South Dakota, although this would be subject to judicial interpretation.
There has not been any prosecutions of internet gambling as far as players go in South Dakota and many players there partake in online poker without any fear of being charged. It would be very interesting if someone was ever charged to see how the courts interpret this law but given how difficult it would be to gather the evidence against anyone to do this this appears to be quite unlikely to happen anytime soon.
Online players from South Dakota do not only have the regulated poker rooms to choose from, they also can choose to play at any of the online poker rooms that offer play to Americans in general, and although there are a few states that have limited or even no access to these online poker sites, South Dakota is not one of them. There’s really only one option for me when it comes to recommendations for poker sites in this state – check it out below:
The Best Poker Site for South Dakota Players? Ignition Poker.
(1) Wild Bill Hickok
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