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Alaska Poker Laws

Despite being the largest of the fifty US States, Alaska has the fourth smallest population (731,000), the nation´s worst Internet connection, and – for those who do receive an Internet connection – the slowest average connection speed in the whole of the USA [1].

Alaska became a US property in 1867 – when the Russians sold it for $7.2 million – but it did not become the 49th State until January 1959. Prior to the Last Frontier State being incorporated into the United States there was random legislation about gambling and the issuing of permits to allow gambling on social events, but it was not until 1978 that Alaskan lawmakers sat down to consolidate these laws into those we have today.

As the first Alaska Gambling Laws in 1978 were contained under the heading Offences against Public Health and Decency gamblers had a pretty good idea of what was coming next; and there is no get-out clause for gambling activities which did not exist in 1978, as the State legislation defines illegal gambling as any act of gambling which is not specifically authorized by the State.

Can I Play Online Poker for Real Money in Alaska?

Legally no, and there is not even a grey area to contest this. Statute 11.66.280 [2] defines gambling as a person staking something of value in a contest of chance not under the person´s control, on the understanding that that person or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.

The writers of the Statute also covered their bases regarding the question of whether poker is a game of skill by defining a contest of chance as being any game in which the outcome depends in a material degree upon an element of chance notwithstanding that the skill of the contestants may also be a factor. It makes you wonder if these guys could see into the future!

Even though nobody has ever been charged with an offense under this statute, the penalties are fairly substantial. First offenders caught playing poker for real money in Alaska get a slap on the wrist for a violation, but subsequent offences count as a Class B misdemeanor (up to 90 days in jail and $2,000 fine [3]). Online poker sites providing a service could be charged with a Class C felony (up to 5 years imprisonment and $50,000 fine), and even affiliates promoting online poker sites in Alaska could be found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor (up to one year in jail and a $10,000 fine).

Despite the penalties for providing an online poker service to residents of Alaska, you can still play online poker for real money on a lot of sites!

Is it Legal to Play Poker in Alaska at all?

There are certain instances in which it is possible to play poker in Alaska, but these are restricted to home games in which the person(s) hosting the game cannot charge a fee or deduct a rake. A Bill passed in 2005 (see below) offered the possibility for an individual to open a card room in which to play poker, but the conditions were so outrageous that nobody could afford to take advantage of the legislation. Consequently there are no land-based casinos in Alaska offering poker for real money and even cruise ships that have an on-board casino have to pull out of Alaskan waters before the cards can be dealt.

Seven tribal casinos exist in Alaska, but these are restricted to offering games of bingo and pull-tab tickets; while other forms of legal gambling in Alaska are limited to events such as dog mushers contests, the Petersburg Canned Salmon Classic (in which the person who guesses closest to the total number tins of salmon produced in a season wins $2,000) and the Rain Game Classic (in which punters try to predict how much rain and snow will fall in a year [4].

The History of Gambling Legislation in Alaska

Being such a new state – and one which quickly put an end to any unapproved gambling options which existed – there is little history of gambling legislation to record. Prior to 1978, there had been a history of gambling going back to the Yukon gold miners of the 19th century; and when Alaska was incorporated as an organized territory in 1912, permits were issued for wagering on social organized events such as dog musher contests.

In 1973, a significant court ruling in Joseph Robert Morrow -v- State of Alaska [5] inflamed the Skill -v- Luck argument when the court ruled that there were four factors which determined whether or not the event on which bets were being taken were a contest of chance. In order to get off the charge of illegally selling lottery tickets, Morrow would have to prove:

  • Participants must have a distinct possibility of exercising skill and must have sufficient data upon which to calculate an informed judgment.
  • Participants must have the opportunity to exercise the skill, and the general class of participants must possess the skill.
  • Skill or the competitors´ efforts must sufficiently govern the results.
  • The standard of skill must be known to the participants, and this standard must govern the results.

Unfortunately Joseph Morrow could not fulfill the judge´s criteria and he lost his case. Even more unfortunately, the judge´s interpretation of what constituted a game of chance was overruled by the above-mentioned Statute 11.66.280five years later.

The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 [6] paved the way for the tribal casinos to open, but they still have to adhere to the limitations of State law in respect of what games they can offer (games of bingo and pull-tab tickets). Fortunately the tribal nations have other sources of income to rely upon.

The original 1978 legislation making unapproved gambling illegal remains intact, although there have been a few notable events in the past thirty-six years:

1983 – The rules relating to lotteries were put to the test when a legal challenge was made against the Mayor of Kenai Peninsula for distributing parcels of land via a $10.00 lottery. The Supreme Court allowed the lottery to go ahead once changes were made to the terms and conditions [7].

2001 – Attorney General Bruce M. Botelho guides the State´s investigators with the opinion that it is acceptable for the winner of a contest of chance to be awarded with an item of modest intrinsic value, such as a trophy, t-shirt or certificate [8].

2005 – HB272 passes the Senate, making it possible for a municipality to issue card room licenses if a) the majority of the municipality votes to allow the existence of the card room, b) if the licensee pays $25,000 license application fee, and c) $10,000 license fee per table. Nobody, to date, has taken advantage of this law to set up a card room in Alaska [9].

2008 – A State-wide ballot was held on the proposal that a Gaming Commission should be established to initiate and supervise regulated gambling. Despite there being no funded unilateral opposition to the proposal it was defeated by 43,207 votes [10].

2012 – An amendment to AS 05.15.640 made it legal for any gaming activity to be advertised on the Internet. However, the amendment came with a reminder from Alaska´s Department of Revenue that the conduct of any gaming activity online is still illegal [11].

The Current Situation Regarding Online Poker in Alaska

The situation regarding online poker in Alaska is that nobody is too concerned with the situation to do anything about it. There are no racetracks in Alaska to forward the argument for online gambling and the tribes have other revenue streams. With such a small population (about the same as Detroit), it is unlikely that anybody would gain financial benefit from trying to change the current situation.

The fact that nobody has been charged with an offence under the 1978 legislation and that online poker is freely available (and apparently tolerated) does not make it legal by default. However, if a federal law was passed for Internet gaming, Alaska would probably shuffle around its existing legislation to accommodate it.

Poker´s Big Winners from Alaska

Only one poker player from Alaska has earned more than $1 million according to the Alaska all-time money list – Perry Green [12]. Green won 3 WSOP bracelets in the 70s and still attends Las Vegas each year. It was Green – with Representative Pete Kott and Senator John Cowdery – who led the fight to legalize poker in Alaska in 2005 which resulted in the passing of HB 272 and the State-wide ballot.

More recent big winners from Alaska include Sean Sananikone, who picked up first place at the Heartland Poker Tour in Quapaw (2009), and Steve Dunning – who collected $104,350 for winning the Festa Al Lago Event in Las Vegas (2006). Online phenomenon Alex “Assassinato” Fitzgerald also hails from Alaska and, with more than $2.5 million in career earnings, Fitzgerald is undoubtedly the most successful poker player from Alaska.

The Chances of Alabama Online Poker being Regulated in the Future

The prospects of online poker being regulated in Alaska are very slim – partially due to the State´s conservative approach to gambling and partially due to the general apathy about gambling in Alaska. One would hope that if a federal bill is passed paving the way for online poker in Alaska, the State´s regulators would not deny the opportunity to the few who would wish to take advantage of it; but that is an issue that may have to be addressed sometime in the future.

Even though it is technically illegal to play online poker for real money in Alaska, the general apathy about gambling in the Last Frontier State also extends to pursuing the “criminals” who currently engage in the activity – so the likelihood of somebody actually being charged with the crime of online gambling is about the same as the State of Alaska regulating online poker.

References

[1] Akamai State of the Internet Report Q1 2014 (Page 18)
[2] Alaska Statute 11.66.200
[3] Penalties and Fines for Misdemeanors and Felonies in Alaska
[4] Legal Forms of Gambling in Alaska
[5] Morrow v State of Alaska – Dominant Factor Test
[6] Indian Gaming Regulatory Act 1988
[7] Gilman -v- Martin Supreme Court Decision
[8] Dean Guaneli´s Memo to Bruce M. Botelho
[9] Text of HB272 – Allowing Card Rooms to offer Poker, Rummy, Bridge and Crib
[10] Alaska Gaming Commission Ballot
[11] ADR Tax Division Archives
[12] Alaska All-Time Live Poker Money List