North Dakota is a gambling-friendly state for the most part. Apart from sports betting, online poker and internet casinos, the state permits all the most common types of gambling. Indian casinos, horse racing tracks and certain forms of online betting are all allowed as long as the operators have the appropriate licenses.
Social gambling and poker are both legal as long as the participants wager no more than $25 in any single hand or event and the house does not take a profit. At one point, North Dakota even flirted with the idea of licensing and regulating online poker sites. Representative James Kasper introduced HCR 3035 in 2005 as an attempt to get North Dakota to become the first state in the US to legalize online poker and offer oversight over the industry.
Where to Bet Online in North Dakota
Horse and Greyhound Betting:
Games of Skill:
Had it passed, HCR 3035 would have allowed poker sites to relocate to North Dakota and accept wagers from all 49 states except for states that opted out. Rep. Kasper put forth a comprehensive argument for regulating online poker, noting the potential tax revenue and safety issues that a licensing regime would have addressed.
Ultimately, HCR 3035 was defeated in the senate with a vote that overwhelmingly rejected the proposal. North Dakota hasn’t pushed for any other measures to legalize the industry since then. Lawmakers don’t seem particularly interested in pushing the issue at this time so it will likely be a while before anyone takes another stab at bringing internet poker or gambling to ND.
Legal Betting Sites
North Dakota has so far been fairly receptive to the forms of online betting that are legal at the federal level. Horse racing and fantasy sports are exempt from federal laws that prohibit most forms of online wagering and North Dakota does not prohibit either of those. The same also applies to games of skill.
Online Fantasy Sports
Online fantasy sports betting is legal across the United States except in states that specifically prohibit fantasy leagues or games of skill. This is the fastest-growing form of online betting in the US and all the major fantasy sites accept residents from ND. If you’re familiar with traditional fantasy leagues, online fantasy works in much the same manner.
There is one key difference, though. Online fantasy leagues last for just a day or week as opposed to an entire season. You can draft new teams every week and participate in multiple contests every day. The largest fantasy sites routinely host dozens of short-term leagues every single day at stakes that range from just a few cents to several thousand dollars.
Fixed-odds sports betting is outlawed in North Dakota but fantasy betting provides a similar experience that is 100% legal. Both forms of wagering require a similar skill set and both can be supremely profitable for knowledgeable sports fans. These days, it is not uncommon to find fantasy contests on the internet that offer six or seven figure prizes to the top-performing teams.
The reason online fantasy betting is legal in North Dakota is because the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 specifically classified fantasy betting as a game of skill. Thus, federal gaming laws do not apply to fantasy betting.
Actually, it would be more accurate to say daily fantasy sports are not illegal in North Dakota. The fantasy sports model has never received formal confirmation one way or another. There are no laws prohibiting fantasy sports, but there have also been no legal opinions stating that fantasy sports definitely do not run afoul of state gambling laws. Likewise, nobody has gotten around to passing any legislation to address the issue.
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem made a statement a few years back that offered little help to anyone looking for legal clarity. He said, “If it’s a game of chance, it’s not likely legal. And if it’s a game of skill, then it would likely be legal.”
He went on to explain:
“People who say it’s a game of skill say they carefully select their players, they look at the history, all the things that go into the selection of their team and then they make their choice. The other side says its pure chance whatever is going to happen.”
In any case, all the major fantasy sports sites operate in North Dakota without issue today. If you want to play, all you need to do is hop online and sign up for an account.
Horse Racing Betting
Parimutuel horse wagering is legal in North Dakota at live tracks, simulcasting facilities and online. The Racing Commission oversees the state’s two racetracks (Chippewa Downs and the North Dakota Horse Park) as well as online wagering.
North Dakota is unique in that it doesn’t just permit online horse betting; it actually licenses and oversees wagering websites. Two of the nation’s largest horse betting sites, BetAmerica and WatchandWager.com are both licensed by the ND Racing Commission. Sites that are licensed in other jurisdictions are also permitted to offer their services to residents.
Sports Betting in North Dakota
Sports betting is prohibited by North Dakota gaming laws. The definition of gambling in North Dakota is wide enough to include betting on sports and the law does specify that participation as a gambler is a crime punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 for the first offense and escalating from there.
The odds of North Dakota legalizing sports betting have improved over time in light of two lawmakers promising at the end of 2018 to introduce legislation in 2019. Representatives Thomas Beadle and Jason Dockter have both confirmed they are working on legislation that would allow certain charities to conduct sports betting legislation and plan to introduce it at some point in 2019.
Details on the bills are still fuzzy, but local media has reported one bill would allow betting on pro sports only while the other bill would allow wagering on pro and college sports. Both bills would limit sports betting to charity organizations due to the state constitution banning all forms of gambling except the lottery, charitable gaming and tribal gaming.
North Dakota gaming law presents a second problem, which is a prohibition on sports betting except for “sports pools” run by charitable organizations. The law defines sports pools as “wagers paid by players for a line or square that will determine which player wins.”
With the state constitution and state laws both severely limiting North Dakota’s options, the potential for widespread sports betting seems limited at this point. A change in state law could be accomplished through legislative means, but any changes to the constitution would require voter approval.
For what it’s worth, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum has said he won’t advocate for legal sports betting but also won’t oppose it if it comes up.
Tribal casinos in North Dakota may actually have the easiest route to sports betting. Under a gaming compact reached between the state and tribes in 2013, the tribes are authorized to offer most forms of gaming, including sports betting. In a section of the gaming compact detailing which forms of gaming the tribes may offer, we find:
G. Sports Book except as prohibited by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act
The Supreme Court of the US overturned PASPA in 2018, so it appears nothing is stopping ND tribal casinos from opening sportsbooks. The tribes have not yet moved on this opportunity, but we do know tribal representatives have met with Governor Burgum to discuss the issue.
Online skill games ride a fine line between what is legal and what is not. Chapter 12 of the North Dakota Century Code explains that the definition of gambling does NOT include:
Lawful contests of skill, speed, strength, or endurance in which awards are made only to entrants or to the owners of entries
What this means is that it is not prohibited to place wagers in a contest of skill as long as you are one of the participants. Any game in which skill is the only factor that determines the winner may be hosted as a real-money contest. There are a few websites that offer these types of games, with WorldWinner.com being the largest.
WorldWinner hosts a variety of skill games such as Scrabble, Bejeweled and others that can be played for real money. It’s an interesting concept but it has had a hard time catching on in a big way. At this time, most games are played for small sums of money.
North Dakota Lottery
The North Dakota Lottery was established in 2004 after voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the sale of tickets to multistate drawings. The ND Lottery is a small operation that only sells tickets to Powerball, Mega Millions, Lucky for Life, Lotto America and 2by2 with no other games or scratch cards on offer.
ND residents 18 and older can visit the ND Lottery website or download the official mobile app to buy tickets online. Players may buy a single ticket at a time or buy subscriptions to multiple drawings, for up to a year in advance.
Winnings of $599 or less are deposited directly to your online account, which you can then withdraw electronically. Winnings of $600 or more must be claimed in person just like you would had you purchased the winning ticket at a gas station.
You can read more at our ND Online Lottery review here.
Gambling and the Criminal Code
The Criminal Code of North Dakota considers gambling to be any activity in which the participants risk “any money, credit, deposit, or other thing of value for gain, contingent, wholly or partially, upon lot, chance, the operation of gambling apparatus, or the happening or outcome of an event, including an election or sporting event, over which the person taking the risk has no control.”
The definition of gambling makes exception for games of skill and private games in which the participants wager no more than $25 at a time. Anyone who is caught participating in outlawed gambling games is subject to an “infraction” for which there is a fine of up to $1,000. Anyone convicted of more than one infraction in a year may be charged with a Class B misdemeanor for which there is a fine of up to $1500 and up to thirty days of imprisonment.
Overall, the risks involved in gambling as a player are minor. These laws do not include small stakes social games or participation in exempted forms of betting such as horse racing, fantasy sports or contests of skill. It is unclear if these laws apply to betting at unregulated offshore poker or gambling sites, but no one to date has ever been charged for doing so.
North Dakota’s Criminal Code does take the “business of gambling” more seriously. Anyone who conducts a wagering pool or lottery, receives wagers on behalf of another person or organizes an unlicensed gambling operation can be charged with a Class C felony. The punishment for conviction of a Class C felony in North Dakota is up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.