South Dakota

south-dakotaSouth Dakota’s position on Internet poker gambling and other betting games shares one key similarity to Mount Rushmore: it’s immovable. The Mount Rushmore State seems to have little interest in pursuing iGaming legislation for games like Internet Texas Hold’em poker for real money, fearing that it will detract from its brick and mortar casino revenues.

Yet, as the third state to legalize land-based casinos, South Dakota has proven unafraid to seize viable opportunities, leading some to believe that if the regulated lawful iGaming industry beings to boom South Dakota will enter the mix.

The Mount Rushmore State has tricky land based gambling laws indeed. However, signing up for an online real money US poker site will be no trouble at all.

Can players from South Dakota play online poker?

YesYes! Fear not. Despite South Dakota’s immovable iGaming stance, players from SD State should have no problem signing up for and playing on a legit real money online poker website. Our recommended US-facing sites on our homepage feature a myriad of withdrawal and depositing options, are renowned for their stellar customer service and offer some of the best first time depositing bonuses for real cash online poker players. And did we mention that they feature plenty of fish in games such as Texas Hold’em?

Is online poker legal in South Dakota?

MaybeInternet betting and gambling is not regulated by the Mount Rushmore State, nor is operating an online gambling site permitted by state law. However, the state’s Internet gambling laws make no mention of players, leading one to believe that South Dakota’s law enforcement officials are hardly concerned with its residents playing Texas Hold’em or other betting games on online websites. Further emphasizing this point, to date no one in SD has been arrested for participating in an Internet poker game.

South Dakota’s gambling statues are extremely strict, indicative of the state’s willingness to protect its legal land-based casino industry at all cost. Because of the severity of the law, we recommend that anyone looking to play online poker on an US-facing Internet website first sort out its legality with a professional. Until then, it is recommended that you familiarize yourself with the state’s gambling statues, as summarized below:

The Mount Rushmore State attempts to define gambling via use of the term gambling, rendering the definition incomplete at best. Instead, it reads more like a penalties clause, and not a true delineation of the term gambling. It states:

  • 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. Chapter 22-25-1

Notice two oddities regarding the gambling definition. The first is that the chance vs. skill debate is not addressed in any shape or form, leaving the classification of poker largely up to interpretation. Furthermore, players and operators are subject to the same penalties – a rarity in the United States.

  • South Dakota law strongly implies that social gambling (poker included), regardless of stake or whether a house charge is taken, is prohibited. There are no provisions listed that exempt players from participating in private gambling.
  • Ironically, the statues reserved for Internet gambling are clearer than the ones that address traditional gambling, at least in regards to operator penalties. The terms Gambling business, Internet and bet or wager are all rigidly defined, with bet meaning to directly or indirectly take, receive, or accept money or any valuable thing with the understanding or agreement that the money or valuable thing will be paid or delivered to a person if the payment or delivery is contingent upon the result of a race, contest, or game or upon the happening of an event not known to be certain. Chapter 22-25A-1.
  • Anyone involved in an Internet betting gambling business is subject to severe penalties, far harsher than those inflicted for overseeing an illegal facility. First-time offenders are guilty of a Class 6 felony, while repeat offenders are subject to a Class 5 felony charge. Compounding matters, according to the law every single bet made on an illicit site is subject to an additional felony charge.

Given the broad nature of the term bet poker could easily be included on the list of illicit Internet games. But just to reiterate, the law does not address the issue of mere participation in an online gambling setting. If you’d like to review South Dakota’s complete State code [3], please see the “References” section.

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The Facts

The history of gambling in South Dakota

SD has a long and storied history of gambling, dating back to 1876. That year, Charlie and Steve Utter led a wagon train filled with gamblers and prostitutes to the town of Deadwood. Despite a deadly smallpox epidemic and local skirmishes with Indian tribes, business flourished. Brothels, gambling houses and saloons peppered the rough and tumble town. Wagering on card games, including poker, was commonplace, as were violent outbursts. Most notably, Wild Bill Hickok was shot and murdered while holding what would famously become known as the dead man’s hand – Aces and eights.

Gambling would continue to run rampant in Deadwood through the Prohibition Era and into the 1950s, when state officials finally began cracking down on illicit gambling activities.

Horse and dog races were made legal in the mid 20th century, followed several decades later by the establishment of a legal state lottery. South Dakota would soon join other lottery friendly states, together participating in the weekly Powerball drawing.

In 1988, land-based casinos were legalized, but only in Deadwood. The original betting limit was restricted to $5 per hand, a regulation that would be relaxed to $100 in 2000 and $1,000 in 2012. To date, there are 11 legit tribal casinos and more than half-a-dozen commercial casinos operating out of Deadwood, many of them offering legit betting games such as Texas Hold’em poker.

Regulated gambling options in South Dakota

Commercial casinos, tribal casinos and the state lottery are all legal in South Dakota. Pari-mutuel betting is permitted as well, although you won’t find any racing facilities within the state.

Charitable gambling is legal in some capacity, although it appears that poker does not fall under its scope.

The future of regulated online gambling in South Dakota

Throughout the years, South Dakota has exhibited a willingness to expand into new legal gambling ventures, indicative of its forward progress over the past 25 years. Today, the town of Deadwood is a legit gambling epicenter, trailing only Las Vegas and Atlantic City in scope. And as one of two major tourist attractions offered by the state (Mount Rushmore being the other), Deadwood’s betting and gambling industry provides the state with a much needed revenue boost.

It’s for this reason that South Dakota’s legislators are hesitant to introduce a new form of legal gambling. Believe us when we say that as of 2014, South Dakota is in no hurry to pass an iGaming bill for websites and games like real money Internet poker. That may change as more states prove the viability of a state regulated Internet gaming market. But right now, the industry hasn’t garnered enough momentum to attract the attention of state officials.

Fun fact

Deadwood’s $1,000 betting limit applies to poker cash games. As a result, there are no NLHE tables allowed. In their place are spread limit games. Similar to no limit, spread limit games allow players to bet up to a certain amount (in this case $1,000) on every street. Therefore a $2/$5 NLHE game would allow for any bet or raise up to $1,000 but never over. Also, only three raises can be made on any given street, similar to how fixed limit games function.

Tournaments can feature buy-ins above the $1,000 maximum, although the largest buy-in to date in Deadwood barely exceeded the cap ($1,000 + $100). SD State law limits the house to receiving a 10% VIG, significantly less than what most other states charge for entry.

The bottom line

In a recent interview, the Borgata’s COO, Tom balance, stated that real cash online poker is not a threat to brick and mortar casinos [3]. Although his findings are based on relatively new data, he is confident that the two cater to different demographics and can successfully coexist. This just might be the kind of news South Dakota’s officials were waiting to hear before opening iGaming talks about legal Internet gambling and online poker.

Still, as of 2014, no word on when or if an iGaming bill will come to pass has been announced. And given South Dakota’s paltry population of under 1 million, could it really support a thriving Internet poker gambling community? As Delaware has already proven, the answer is certainly not. It’s for this reason that we feel South Dakota’s chances of entering the market are exceedingly slim.


[1] New Jersey’s Casinos Are Sinking Faster Than Online Gambling Can Rise

[1] South Dakota Legislature – Laws

[1] Borgata Boss: Online Poker is no Threat to B&M Casinos

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