Home Poker Law


Introduction

Most gambling regulations were created to protect citizens from developing dangerous gambling habits as a result of easy access to gambling establishments. Over the past few years there has been a growing social acceptance of poker as a game of skill. But it still has a long way to go.

Relevant Laws

  • Gambling. As a player, you should be looking at the laws regarding gambling since these will be the applicable laws which tell you whether or not playing poker will be legal. Usually the statutes will give the legal definition for the term "gambling" or "player".

    • Professional gambling. Many states have specific laws that prohibit professional gambling. These laws perplex me. I'm not sure why anyone would care whether or not someone engages in an activity as an occupation vs. recreation. While I do agree that professional gamblers are more likely to participate in games that are frowned upon by the government (high stakes, etc.), this principle is merely a correlation, and not a definition.

  • Hosting. If you will be hosting a home poker game you will want to review the relevant statutes. These statutes usually refer to a "gambling place" or "gambling establishment".

    • Advertising. Advertising a home poker game may also be an illegal act by itself. This is something to keep in mind for people running an illegal game since you may be exposed to multiple counts if arrested. Someone advertising someone else's game may also expose themself to arrest. The relevant statues regarding advertising a game will usually refer to "enticing", "advertising", or "promoting" gambling.

Classification of Legal Games

  • Charity games. Charity games are games where a certain amount of the money gambled is given away to charity. Hosting a charity game may carries certain requirements. It may require the charity to have an official non-profit status by the IRS. Another requirement may be the submittal and approval of a charity gambling application. Another requirement may be a paying a fee.

  • Social Games. The term "social game" is the term that statues use to refer to a legal home poker game. Here are some factors which usually define a "social game":

    • The game must be played among friends only. Some states require players to have a "bona fide social relationship", which means that they must be real friends outside of the game.
    • The game is played inside a private home, and not in a public place.
    • There is no admission fee or seat fee charged.
    • There is no no rake.
    • No one can receive any money or anything of value for conducting the game except their own winnings as a player.
    • The game's odds can't favor a "house" or any player.
    • There is no house bank.

    These are factors which I have seen used only occasionally:

    • The game can't be advertised to the public.
    • No professional gamblers are allowed.
  • Notes about classification terms:

    • "Private" vs. "social" games. Most legal home poker games are labeled in the statues as "social games", while others are labeled as "private games". Although, there hasn't been much talk in the poker community about this distinction, I think it is important. The word "Social" implies "society at large", while the word "private" refers to "only certain people" - but NOT society at large. In that sense, "private" games are actually "non-social" games. This is important because one of the purposes of home poker laws is because the government doesn't want the public at large exposed to widespread, unmonitored gambling environments. "Social" games break this rule, but private games don't. As a result of this, you should realize that states that label legal games as "private" probably have a little more of a strict philosophy of what constitutes an acceptable game.

    • "Charity Games." Within the statues some games are classified as "charity", which are games that are run by non-profit organizations. But you will occasionally see references in the statues to "non-profit" games. References to "non-profit" games are referring to games where the host is not making a profit from running the game - the reference is not referring to a charity game. Legally-speaking, and financially-speaking, a "non-profit" game actually means a "zero-profit" game, and could refer to either a charity game or a social home game. From a financial standpoint, a charity game could best be defined as "negative-profit", since there is actually money being siphoned away from the game.

Legality - Laws

Some states explicitly allow home poker games, some states explicitly prohibit them, and some states don't have a stated policy towards them (which means they are illegal by default). About half of all states allow "social games".

The legality of some activities may be implied. For example, if hosting a game is illegal, then it is probably implied that advertising a game would be illegal, even if there are no statues stating so. Similarly, if gambling is illegal, then hosting gambling may be illegal, and vice versa.

Some legal violations may be misdemeanors, while others may be felonies. This is an important distinction to keep in mind.

Legality - Practical Advice

Some people think that contacting your state's Attorney General's Office or Gaming Control Board is helpful. I don't think so, for a few reasons.

  1. Some people think that getting a direct statement from the government may carry more weight than a lawyer's opinion, but it doesn't. Even though these organizations may be in charge of creating laws, their comments about the laws do not ACTUALLY constitute the law, they are merely comments.
  2. Even if they are able to comment on the laws, they frequently won't do so because of the simple fact that it is not their job to interpret the law. They are not lawyers.
  3. They may not want to be on record for taking a stance on any issue, or open them up to criticism for making a statement.
  4. Their stated public policy may contradict their actual, unofficial policy.

Other people believe that contacting the police department before you set up your game is a good idea. This is certainly better than contacting the government because the local police are the ones that will likely bust your game (assuming they don't bring in federal officers). These answers may be helpful in gauging their attitude, but these answers should also be discounted. The police may say, "we're not interested in busting a Friday night poker game," but may later bust a game because someone higher-up has ordered them to do so - or because some group of citizens has complained about home games since you asked the police.

The main questions that can be helpful in gauging the legal climate is, "Are home games actually being busted?" If so, then the legal climate may be negative. The next question to ask is, "Were the busted games for-profit games?" If not, then the climate is definitely negative. If, on the other hand, the games were raked, then the police may only be focusing on for-profit games.

Another thing to keep in mind is that - everything else being equal - a home poker game is more likely to get busted...

  1. The higher the buy-in. The more money at stakes, the less likely that it will be an "innocent", little small-stakes game, and the more likely it is to be a large game with serious money at stake.

  2. The more players there are playing. This is similar to the principle above, except the game is on a larger scale by increasing the number of players instead of buy-ins.

  3. The more the game is advertised. The more it is advertised then the less "private" the game is, and the more it is open to the general public.

  4. The more the game impacts neighors, the more it is likely to be busted.

When trying to assess whether or not setting up a game is worth the legal risk, a large part of that consideration is your personal tolerance for risk. There have been reports of gamers getting busted even though they received pre-approval from authorities. Therefore, it stands to reason that anyone caught organizing or playing in a home poker game may still get in trouble with the law. On the other hand, even if a home poker game is illegal, it may still be fine. As long as the game is unraked and low-stakes then the game is harmless, and, although the game is breaking the letter of the law, it is still abiding by the spirit of the law.

Notes on State Laws Below

  • My main efforts were focused on interpreting the laws relating to hosting a game. I didn't focus on the legality of gambling as a player. If I happened to see a law regarding the legality of being a player then I may have noted it below, but my information below that relates to "playing" or "gambling" is not meant to be comprehensive.
  • Some states may make a reference to a game of "skill". Obviously, poker players know that poker IS a game of skill, but in the eyes of the law, it isn't. Hence, any reference to a game of skill should be assumed that it excludes the game of poker.
  • States where I had a hard time coming to a conclusive interpretation were: Maine, Nebraska, and New Jersey.
  • Some states allow social games but limit the amount of money that can be bet or won - Florida and North Dakota are two examples.
  • I didn't make any effort to classify charity games. Some of states that do not allow social games may allow charity games. I believe Michigan and Massachusetts are two examples.

U.S. State Laws

Last updated: Feb 8, 2013.

Alabama

  • General gambling laws: Title 13A-12-21
  • Official source? Yes. State of Alabama web site.
  • Social game legal? Yes - a defense against prosecution.
  • Social game reference: Title 13A-12-21(b). "It is a defense to a prosecution under this section that a person charged with being a player was engaged in a social game in a private place. The burden of injecting the issue is on the defendant, but this does not shift the burden of proof."

Alaska

  • General gambling laws: Title 11.66.200
  • Official source? Yes. State of Alaska web site.
  • Social game legal? Yes - a defense against prosecution.
  • Social game reference: Title 11.66.200.(b) "It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution under this section that the defendant was a player in a social game."

Arizona

  • General gambling laws: Chapter 13-3301
  • Official source? Yes. State of Arizona web site.
  • Social game legal? Yes - explicitly permitted.
  • Social game reference: Chapter 13-3302.A.2. "The following conduct is not unlawful under this chapter: Social gambling."

Arkansas

  • General gambling laws: Title 5. Subtitle 6. Chapter 66.
  • Official source? Yes. LexixNexis - an official publisher of the Arkansas Code.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: None.
  • Notes:: Here is the portion relating to gambling. Title 5. Subtitle 6. Chapter 66. Section 112. "If a person bets any money or any valuable thing on any game of brag, bluff, poker, seven-up, three-up, twenty-one, vingt-et-un, thirteen cards, the odd trick, forty-five, whist, or at any other game of cards known by any name now known to the law or with any other or new name or without any name, upon conviction he or she is guilty of a violation and shall be fined in any sum not less than ten dollars ($10.00) nor more than twenty-five dollars ($25.00)."

California

  • General gambling laws: Title 9. Chapter 10.
  • Official source? Yes. State of California web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes.
  • Social game reference: Section 337j (2)(D) "(2) As used in this section, "controlled game" does not include any of the following: (D) Games played with cards in private homes or residences, in which no person makes money for operating the game, except as a player."
  • Notes: (1) A controlled game refers to an illegal game.
    (2) The California laws regarding gambling are much more detailed than most other states. In my opinion, I believe this is because California allows legal card rooms to operate within the state. Hence, they probably have a more developed system of law regarding gambling, compared to the states that only have the one paragraph gambling statutes because they don't deal with gambling at all.

Colorado

  • General gambling laws: Title 18. Article 10.
  • Official source? Yes. from LexixNexis - an external site that publishes an official version of Colorado's statutes, according to the state of Colorado.
  • Social games legal? Yes - explicitly permitted.
  • Social game reference: 18-10-102 (2) (d) Gambling does not include "(d) Any game, wager, or transaction which is incidental to a bona fide social relationship, is participated in by natural persons only, and in which no person is participating, directly or indirectly, in professional gambling;"
  • Notes: The following two paragraphs are found within the statutes, although they may be comments on the law, and not necessarily statutes themselves.

    (1) "Nonprofit corporation's fundraising which involved casino-type gambling with play money did not qualify for the permissible social gambling exemption of this section because participants were risking a thing of value for gain contingent in whole or in part upon chance and the gambling, although incidental to a social relationship, was participated in by persons other than natural persons and was conducted under circumstances in which persons participated in professional gambling as intended by the statute. Charnes v. Central City Opera House, 773 P.2d 546 (Colo. 1989)."

    The above comment is regarding the legality of charity casino activities.

    (2)"To determine whether a game is incidental to a bona fide social relationship and thus excluded from the definition of gambling, the critical inquiry is whether the participants came together for any shared purpose other than gambling; where a basketball pool was entered into only by devoted patrons of a neighborhood bar and liquor authority inspectors, it was incidental to a bona fide social relationship. Leichliter v. State Liquor Licensing Auth., 9 P.3d 1153 (Colo. 1999)."

    The paragraph above gives some clarity regarding the definition of a bona-fide social relationship.

Connecticut

  • General gambling laws: Chapter 53. Section 278.
  • Official source? Yes. State of Connecticut web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes - explicitly permitted.
  • Social game reference: Chapter 53. Section 278b. "provided natural persons shall be exempt from prosecution and punishment under this subsection for any game, wager or transaction which is incidental to a bona fide social relationship, is participated in by natural persons only and in which no person is participating, directly or indirectly, in professional gambling."

Delaware

  • General gambling laws: Title 11. Chapter 5. Subchapter VII. Section 1403 through 1408
  • Official source? Yes. State of Delaware web site.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: Section 1403. "A person is guilty of advancing gambling in the first degree when:
    (1) The person keeps, exhibits or uses, or is concerned in interest in keeping, exhibiting or using any book, device, apparatus or paraphernalia for the purpose of receiving, recording or registering bets or wagers upon the result of any trial or contest, wherever conducted, of skill, speed or power of endurance of human or beast;
    (4) The person directly or indirectly bets or wagers, or promises to bet or wager, money or anything of value as provided in paragraph (1) of this section. "

District of Columbia

  • General gambling laws: Title 22. Subtitle I. Chapter 17.
  • Official source? Yes. Westlaw.com - an official outside resource that the DC Council contracts with to provide the full Official DC Code online.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: None.
  • Notes: There is a section called, "§ 22-1717. Permissible gambling activities". There is no reference to social games of any kind in this section.

Florida

  • General gambling laws: Title 46, Section 849 (from state.fl.us), Title 46, Section 849 (from flsenate.gov) - I'm not sure which one is the official source. They both look official.
  • Official source? Yes - state of Florida web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes - explicitly permitted.
  • Social game reference: Section 849.085 (2) (a): "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, it is not a crime for a person to participate in a game described in this section if such game is conducted strictly in accordance with this section. (2) As used in this section: (a) “Penny-ante game” means a game or series of games of poker, pinochle, bridge, rummy, canasta, hearts, dominoes, or mah-jongg in which the winnings of any player in a single round, hand, or game do not exceed $10 in value"

Georgia

  • General gambling laws: Title 16. Chapter 12. Article 2.
  • Official source? Yes. LexisNexis, publisher of The Official Code of Georgia.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: None. Illegal gambling is defined as, "(a) A person commits the offense of gambling when he: (1) Makes a bet upon the partial or final result of any game or contest or upon the performance of any participant in such game or contest; (3) Plays and bets for money or other thing of value at any game played with cards, dice, or balls."

Hawaii

  • General gambling laws: Chapter 712. The link to the index of laws is here, and the links to the laws are here.
  • Official source? Yes - state of Hawaii web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes - defense against prosecution.
  • Social game reference: Chapter 712 Section 1231 - "Social gambling; definition and specific conditions, affirmative defense. (a) Definition. "Social gambling" means gambling in which all of the following conditions are present:

    (1) Players compete on equal terms with each other; and

    (2) No player receives, or becomes entitled to receive, anything of value or any profit, directly or indirectly, other than the player's personal gambling winnings; and

    (3) No other person, corporation, unincorporated association, or entity receives or becomes entitled to receive, anything of value or any profit, directly or indirectly, from any source, including but not limited to permitting the use of premises, supplying refreshments, food, drinks, service, lodging or entertainment; and

    (4) It is not conducted or played in or at a hotel, motel, bar, nightclub, cocktail lounge, restaurant, massage parlor, billiard parlor, or any business establishment of any kind, public parks, public buildings, public beaches, school grounds, churches or any other public area; and

    (5) None of the players is below the age of majority; and

    (6) The gambling activity is not bookmaking.

    (b) Affirmative defense:

    (1) In any prosecution for an offense described in [section] 712-1223, 712-1224, 712-1225 or 712-1226, a defendant may assert the affirmative defense that the gambling activity in question was a social gambling game as defined in [section] 712-1231(a).

    (2) If the defendant asserts the affirmative defense, the defendant shall have the burden of going forward with evidence to prove the facts constituting such defense unless such facts are supplied by the testimony of the prosecuting witness or circumstance in such testimony, and of proving such facts by a preponderance of evidence.

    (c) In any prosecution for an offense described in this part the fact that the gambling activity involved was other than a social gambling game shall not be an element of the offense to be proved by the prosecution in making out its prima facie case. [L 1973, c 201, pt of §1; gen ch 1993]"

Idaho

  • General gambling laws: Title 18. Chapter 38.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Idaho web site.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: None. The definition of illegal gambling is Title 18. Chapter 38.02.
    "Gambling prohibited. (1) A person is guilty of gambling if he:
    (a) Participates in gambling; or
    (b) Knowingly permits any gambling to be played, conducted or dealt upon or in any real or personal property owned, rented, or under the control of the actor, whether in whole or in part.
    (2) Gambling is a misdemeanor."

Illinois

  • General gambling laws: Title 3. Part D. Article 28.
  • Official source? Yes - he state of Illinois web site.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: None. Illegal gambling is defined as the following:
    "(a) A person commits gambling when he or she:
    (1) knowingly plays a game of chance or skill for money or other thing of value, unless excepted in subsection (b) of this Section;
    (2) knowingly makes a wager upon the result of any game, contest, or any political nomination, appointment or election;"

    In the list of exceptions there is no mention of home poker games or anything similar.

  • Notes: In the list of exceptions, the criminal code refers to games of skills as an exception:

    "(2) Offers of prizes, award or compensation to the actual contestants in any bona fide contest for the determination of skill, speed, strength or endurance or to the owners of animals or vehicles entered in such contest."

    Secondly, one of the exceptions refers to a game where there can be payouts WITHOUT any kind of buy-in. This implies that a poker freeroll may be legal:

    "(13) Games of skill or chance where money or other things of value can be won but no payment or purchase is required to participate."

Indiana

  • General gambling laws: Title 35. Article 45. Chapter 5.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Indiana web site.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: None. There is no reference to social games. Indiana's definition of illegal gambling is defined in: Title 35. Article 45. Chapter 5. Section 2 (a). "A person who knowingly or intentionally engages in gambling commits unlawful gambling."

Iowa

  • General gambling laws: Chapter 99B
  • Official source? Yes- the state of Iowa web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes - explicitly permitted.
  • Social game reference: Chapter 99B.12. GAMES BETWEEN INDIVIDUALS. There is a list of 9 requirements for the game to be legal. None of them are really hindering in any way, except for one rule (section 'g') that says that you can not win or lose more than $50.

Kansas

  • General gambling laws: Chapter 21. Article 43. Section 2 and 3.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Kansas web site.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: None. Their definition of illegal gambling is stated in Chapter 21. Article 43. Section 3.:

    Gambling is:
    (a) Making a bet; or
    (b) Entering or remaining in a gambling place with intent to make a bet, to participate in a lottery, or to play a gambling device.
    Gambling is a class B nonperson misdemeanor."

Kentucky

  • General gambling laws: Chapter 528.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Kentucky web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes - explicitly permitted.
  • Social game reference: 528.010 (1) "A person who gambles at a social game of chance on equal terms with other participants does not otherwise advance gambling activity by performing acts, without remuneration or fee, directed toward the arrangement or facilitation of the game as inviting persons to play, permitting the use of premises therefor and supplying equipment used therein."

Louisiana

  • General gambling laws: Title 14. Section 90
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Louisiana web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes - implied legality (see below).
  • Social game reference: Title 14. Section 90(A)(1)(a) defines gambling as "the intentional conducting, or directly assisting in the conducting, as a business, of any game, contest, lottery, or contrivance whereby a person risks the loss of anything of value in order to realize a profit."

    In other words, gambling is defined as being illegal if it is conducted as a business. It is implied, although not states explicitly. that gambling is legal if it is not profit-driven.

Maine

  • General gambling laws: Chapter 39.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Maine web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes - explicitly permitted.
  • Social game reference: §952.8 states ""Player" means a person who engages in social gambling solely as a contestant or bettor on equal terms with the other participants therein without receiving or becoming entitled to receive something of value or any profit therefrom other than his personal gambling winnings. "Social gambling" is gambling, or a contest of chance, in which the only participants are players and from which no person or organization receives or becomes entitled to receive something of value or any profit whatsoever, directly or indirectly, other than as a player, from any source, fee, remuneration connected with said gambling, or such activity as arrangements or facilitation of the game, or permitting the use of premises, or selling or supplying for profit refreshments, food, drink service or entertainment to participants, players or spectators. A person who engages in "bookmaking" as defined in subsection 2 is not a "player.""
  • Notes: I need to make a note about my interpretation of the law, as I read it. Maine has explicitly defined social gambling according to the section that I just quoted above. The problem (from what I could research) is that the section above merely defines what social gambling is, but the law didn't (from what I could find) actually declare social gambling as legal. Since it is highly implied that social games are legal, I am categorizing them as such.

Maryland

  • General gambling laws: Title 12. Section 102.
  • Official source? Yes. LexisNexis, an external site.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: None. Illegal gambling is defined in §12-102 (a)(1) as "Prohibited. -- A person may not: (1) bet, wager, or gamble;"

Massachusetts

  • General gambling laws: Part IV / Title I / Chapter271
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Massachusetts web site.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: None. Illegal gambling is defined in Section 1.

Michigan

  • General gambling laws: Chapter 432
  • Official source? Yes.
  • Social games legal? Yes - explicitly permitted.
  • Social game reference: Chapter 432.202 Section 2 (a). "“Gambling game”...does not include games played with cards in private homes or residences in which no person makes money for operating the game, except as a player. "

Minnesota

  • General gambling laws: Chapter 609.75 to 609.763
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Minnesota web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes - explicitly permitted.
  • Social game reference: Subd 3(5) states "The following are not bets: (5) a private social bet not part of or incidental to organized, commercialized, or systematic gambling;"

    The law also states the following:

    "609.761 OPERATIONS PERMITTED.
    Subd. 3.Social skill game.
    Sections 609.755 and 609.76 do not prohibit tournaments or contests that satisfy all of the following requirements:
    (1) the tournament or contest consists of the card games of chance commonly known as cribbage, skat, sheepshead, bridge, euchre, pinochle, gin, 500, smear, Texas hold'em, or whist;
    (2) the tournament or contest does not provide any direct financial benefit to the promoter or organizer;
    (3) the value of all prizes awarded for each tournament or contest does not exceed $200; and
    (4) for a tournament or contest involving Texas hold'em:
    (i) no person under 18 years of age may participate;
    (ii) the payment of an entry fee or other consideration for participating is prohibited;
    (iii) the value of all prizes awarded to an individual winner of a tournament or contest at a single location may not exceed $200 each day; and
    (iv) the organizer or promoter must ensure that reasonable accommodations are made for players with disabilities. Accommodations to the table and the cards shall include the announcement of the cards visible to the entire table and the use of Braille cards for players who are blind."

Mississippi

  • General gambling laws: Title 97. Chapter 33.
  • Official source? Yes. LexisNexis, the official publisher of Mississippi code, as stated here.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: § 97-33-1. defines illegal gambling, and states some exceptions to the rules. The exceptions appear to mainly apply to state-sanctioned riverboats.

Missouri

  • General gambling laws: Chapter 572.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Missouri.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: None. Chapter 572.010 defines gambling.
  • Notes: Chapter 572.020 states "2. Gambling is a class C misdemeanor unless: (1) It is committed by a professional player, in which case it is a class D felony;"

    So, it appears that professional gambling is a felony - something to keep in mind for professional poker players.

Montana

  • General gambling laws: Title 23. Chapter 5.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Montana web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes - implied but not implictly stated.
  • Social game reference: Title 25, Chapter 5-151 states, "Gambling prohibited. Except as specifically authorized by statute, all forms of public gambling, lotteries, and gift enterprises are prohibited."

    This states that only public games are illegal, and implies that private games are not.

Nebraska

  • General gambling laws: Chapter 28.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Nebraska web site.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: Illegal gambling is defined in Chapter 28-1101. I am not finding any reference to an exclusion for social or private games.

Nevada

  • General gambling laws: Title 41. Chapter 463.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Nevada web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes - explicitly permitted.
  • Social game reference: NRS 463.0152 defines, ""Game" or "gambling game" ... does not include games played with cards in private homes or residences in which no person makes money for operating the game, except as a player, or games operated by charitable or educational organizations which are approved by the Board pursuant to the provisions of NRS 463.409."

New Hampshire

  • General gambling laws: Title LXII. Chapter 647.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of New Hampshire web site.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: Title LXII. Section 647:2 defines gambling. There is no allowance for private or social games.

New Jersey

  • General gambling laws: New Jersey Constitution - Section VII
  • Official source? Yes. The state of New Jersey web site.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: Section VII (1)(2)(a) of the state Constitution sets out rules about who can run a gambling event. I couldn't find a reference to any allowable game. Separately, on the page listing the New Jersey statutes 2C:37-1, I found a reference to social games, but I could not find any reference where it said that social games were legal.

New Mexico

  • General gambling laws: Title 30. Article 19.
  • Official source? Yes.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: "30-19-2" gives a very basic definition of gambling and states that gambling is illegal. "30-19-8" states that "Except as otherwise permitted or excepted under this article [30-19-1 to 30-19-15 NMSA 1978], any gambling device or gambling place is a public nuisance per se." This would imply that a home poker game is illegal.

New York

North Carolina

  • General gambling laws: Article 37. 14-292
  • Official source? Yes - the state of North Carolina web site.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: §14 292 defines illegal gambling, "Except as provided in Chapter 18C of the General Statutes or in Part 2 of this Article, any person or organization that operates any game of chance or any person who plays at or bets on any game of chance at which any money, property or other thing of value is bet, whether the same be in stake or not, shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. This section shall not apply to a person who plays at or bets on any lottery game being lawfully conducted in any state. (1891, c. 29; Rev., s. 3715; C.S., s. 4430; 1979, c. 893, s. 1; 1983, c. 896, s. 1; 1993, c. 539, s. 204; 1994, Ex. Sess., c. 24, s. 14(c); 2005 344, s. 3(e).)"

North Dakota

  • General gambling laws: Title 12.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of North Dakota web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes.
  • Social game reference: Chapter 12.1-28-02.(1) states that private games are legal, within certain betting limits.

    12.1-28-02. Gambling - Related offenses - Classification of offenses.
    Except as permitted by law:
    1. It is an infraction to engage in gambling on private premises where the total amount wagered by an individual player exceeds twenty-five dollars per individual hand, game, or event."

Ohio

  • General gambling laws: Title 29. Chapter 2915
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Ohio web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes.
  • Social game reference: Chapter 2915.02 states:

    "(A) No person shall do any of the following:
    (2) Establish, promote, or operate or knowingly engage in conduct that facilitates any game of chance conducted for profit or any scheme of chance;
    (4) Engage in betting or in playing any scheme or game of chance as a substantial source of income or livelihood;"

    This states that the game can't be a profit-driven game, and, an individual cannot gamble professionally.

Oklahoma

  • General gambling laws: Title 21.
  • Official source? Yes.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: None. The statutes below point out that hosting a game (§ 21 941) is illegal (and a felony), and that playing in a game (§ 21 942) is illegal (a misdemeanor).

    "§21 941. Opening, conducting or carrying on gambling game Dealing for those engaged in game.
    Except as provided in the Oklahoma Charity Games Act, every person who opens, or causes to be opened, or who conducts, whether for hire or not, or carries on either poker, roulette, craps or any banking or percentage, or any gambling game played with dice, cards or any device, for money, checks, credits, or any representatives of value, or who either as owner or employee, whether for hire or not, deals for those engaged in any such game, shall be guilty of a felony, and upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not less than Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00), nor more than Two Thousand Dollars ($2,000.00), and by imprisonment in the State Penitentiary for a term of not less than one (1) year nor more than ten (10) years. Added by Laws 1916, c. 26, p. 54, § 1, emerg. eff. Jan. 29, 1916. Amended by Laws 1992, c. 328, § 29, eff. Dec. 1, 1992, and adopted by State Question No. 650, Legislative Referendum No. 294, at election held Nov. 3, 1992. Amended by Laws 1997, c. 133, § 266, eff. July 1, 1999; Laws 1999, 1st Ex.Sess., c. 5, § 170, eff. July 1, 1999.

    §21 942. Betting on or playing prohibited game Punishment.
    Any person who bets or plays at any of said prohibited games, or who shall bet or play at any games whatsoever, for money, property, checks, credits or other representatives of value with cards, dice or any other device which may be adapted to or used in playing any game of chance or in which chance is a material element, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not less than Twentyfive Dollars ($25.00), nor more than One Hundred Dollars ($100.00), or by imprisonment in the county jail for a term of not less than one (1) day, nor more than thirty (30) days, or by both such fine and imprisonment."

Oregon

  • General gambling laws: Chapter 167.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Oregon web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes.
  • Social game reference: 167.117(7)(c) states that social games are legal:

    (7) “Gambling” means that a person stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under the control or influence of the person, upon an agreement or understanding that the person or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. “Gambling” does not include:
    (c) Social games."

    167.117(21) defines a social game as:

    (21) “Social game” means:
    (a) A game, other than a lottery, between players in a private home where no house player, house bank or house odds exist and there is no house income from the operation of the social game; and
    (b) If authorized pursuant to ORS 167.121, a game, other than a lottery, between players in a private business, private club or place of public accommodation where no house player, house bank or house odds exist and there is no house income from the operation of the social game."
    "167.121 Local authorization of social games. Counties and cities may, by ordinance, authorize the playing or conducting of a social game in a private business, private club or in a place of public accommodation. Such ordinances may provide for regulation or licensing of the social games authorized. [1974 c.7 §3]
    Note: 167.121 was enacted into law by the Legislative Assembly but was not added to or made a part of ORS chapter 167 or any series therein by legislative action. See Preface to Oregon Revised Statutes for further explanation."

Pennsylvania

  • General gambling laws: Title 18. Chapter 55. Section 5512 to 5514.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Pennsylvania web site.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: § 5513 defines states that hosting gambling. There is no reference to any social or private game in the law.

Rhode Island

  • General gambling laws: Title 11. Chapter 19.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Rhode Island.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: § 11-19-1 defines illegal gambling:

    "Forms of gambling prohibited. – Every person who shall, directly or indirectly, set up, put forth, carry on, promote, or draw, publicly or privately, any lottery, chance, game, or device of any nature or kind whatsoever, or by whatsoever name it may be called, for the purpose of exposing, setting for sale or disposing of any money, houses, lands, merchandise, or articles of value, or shall sell or expose to sale lottery policies, purporting to be governed by the drawing of any public or private lottery, or shall sign or endorse any book, document, or paper whatsoever, for the purpose of enabling others to sell, or expose to sale, lottery policies, except as authorized in this chapter and in title 41 and chapters 61 and 61.2 of title 42, shall be deemed guilty of a felony and shall be imprisoned not exceeding two (2) years or be fined not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000)."

South Carolina

  • General gambling laws: Title 16. Chapter 19. Section 40.
  • Official source? Yes.
  • Social games legal? .
  • Social game reference: This page carries "SECTION 16-19-40. Unlawful games and betting." which defines unlawful gambling:

    "SECTION 16-19-40. Unlawful games and betting.
    If any person shall play at any tavern, inn, store for the retailing of spirituous liquors or in any house used as a place of gaming, barn, kitchen, stable or other outhouse, street, highway, open wood, race field or open place at (a) any game with cards or dice, (b) any gaming table, commonly called A, B, C, or E, O, or any gaming table known or distinguished by any other letters or by any figures, (c) any roley-poley table, (d) rouge et noir, (e) any faro bank (f) any other table or bank of the same or the like kind under any denomination whatsoever or (g) any machine or device licensed pursuant to Section 12-21-2720 and used for gambling purposes, except the games of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist when there is no betting on any such game of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist or shall bet on the sides or hands of such as do game, upon being convicted thereof, before any magistrate, shall be imprisoned for a period of not over thirty days or fined not over one hundred dollars, and every person so keeping such tavern, inn, retail store, public place, or house used as a place for gaming or such other house shall, upon being convicted thereof, upon indictment, be imprisoned for a period not exceeding twelve months and forfeit a sum not exceeding two thousand dollars, for each and every offense."

    It also carries "SECTION 16-19-40. Unlawful games and betting.", which seems to define hosting a game:

    "SECTION 16-19-50. Keeping unlawful gaming tables.
    Any person who shall set up, keep, or use any (a) gaming table, commonly called A, B, C, or E, O, or any gaming table known or distinguished by any other letters or by any figures, (b) roley-poley table, (c) table to play at rouge et noir, (d) faro bank (e) any other gaming table or bank of the like kind or of any other kind for the purpose of gaming, or (f) any machine or device licensed pursuant to Section 12-21-2720 and used for gambling purposes except the games of billiards, bowls, chess, draughts, and backgammon, upon being convicted thereof, upon indictment, shall forfeit a sum not exceeding five hundred dollars and not less than two hundred dollars."

South Dakota

  • General gambling laws: Title 22, Section 25-1
  • Official source? Yes - the state of South Dakota.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: 22-25-1. defines gambling, and keeping a gambling establishment, as:

    "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."

Tennessee

  • General gambling laws: Title 39. Chapter 17. Part 5.
  • Official source? Yes. LexisNexis, official publisher of Tennessee criminal code, as stated here.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: 502(a) states that:

    "A person commits an offense who knowingly engages in gambling."

Texas

  • General gambling laws: Section 47.02
  • Official source? Yes. The state of Texas web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes.
  • Social game reference: Section 47.02 (b) (1) "It is a defense to prosecution under this section that: (1) the actor engaged in gambling in a private place;"

Utah

  • General gambling laws: Title 76. Chapter 10. Section 1102.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Utah web site.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: None. The rules that define illegal gambling and hosting are spelled out in Title 76. Chapter 10. Section 1102:

    (1) A person is guilty of gambling if the person:
    (a) participates in gambling, including any Internet or online gambling;
    (b) knowingly permits any gambling to be played, conducted, or dealt upon or in any real or personal property owned, rented, or under the control of the actor, whether in whole or in part;

    Also:

    (2) Gambling is a class B misdemeanor, except that any person who is convicted two or more times under this section is guilty of a class A misdemeanor.

Vermont

  • General gambling laws: Title 13. Chapter 51. Section 2133 & 2134
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Vermont web site.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: None.
  • Notes: "§ 2102a. Affirmative defense" lists valid defenses against prosecution. Social games are not listed as a defense.

    § 2133 defines illegal gambling.
    A person who plays at cards, dice, tables or other game for money or other valuable in a common gaming or gambling house that is maintained for lucre and gain, shall be fined not more than $200.00 or imprisoned not more than 60 days, or both.

    § 2134. Keeping gambling instrument.
    A person who has or keeps on premises owned or occupied by him or her implements or other things used in gambling and permits persons resorting to such premises to use such implements or things for the purpose of gambling shall be imprisoned not more than six months nor less than 10 days or fined not more than $500.00 nor less than $10.00, or both.

Virginia

  • General gambling laws: Title 18. Capter 8.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Virginia web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes - explicitly permitted.
  • Social game reference: The reference to legal games are in:

    "§ 18.2-334. Exception to article; private residences".
    Nothing in this article shall be construed to make it illegal to participate in a game of chance conducted in a private residence, provided such private residence is not commonly used for such games of chance and there is no operator as defined in subsection 4 of § 18.2-325."

Washington

  • General gambling laws: Title 9. Chapter 46. Section 0265
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Washington web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes - explicitly permitted.
  • Social game reference: Section 0265.

    ""Player," as used in this chapter, means a natural person who engages, on equal terms with the other participants, and solely as a contestant or bettor, in any form of gambling in which no person may receive or become entitled to receive any profit therefrom other than personal gambling winnings, and without otherwise rendering any material assistance to the establishment, conduct or operation of a particular gambling activity. A natural person who gambles at a social game of chance on equal terms with the other participants shall not be considered as rendering material assistance to the establishment, conduct or operation of the social game merely by performing, without fee or remuneration, acts directed toward the arrangement or facilitation of the game, such as inviting persons to play, permitting the use of premises for the game, or supplying cards or other equipment to be used in the games...."

West Virginia

  • General gambling laws: Chapter 61. Article 10. Section 61-10-5
  • Official source? Yes.
  • Social games legal? No.
  • Social game reference: None.

    §61-10-1 states that hosting a game is illegal.

    Keeping or exhibiting gaming table, machine, or device; penalty; seizure of table, machine or device; forfeiture of money used in such gaming. -- Any person who shall keep or exhibit a gaming table, commonly called A.B.C. or E.O. table, or faro bank, or keno table, or any slot machine, multiple coin console machine, multiple coin console slot machine or device in the nature of a slot machine, or any other gaming table or device of like kind, under any denomination, or which has no name, whether the game, table, bank, machine or device be played with cards, dice or otherwise, or shall be a partner, or concerned in interest, in keeping or exhibiting such table, bank, machine or gaming device of any character, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be confined in jail not less than two nor more than twelve months and be fined not less than one hundred nor more than one thousand dollars. Any such table, faro bank, machine or gaming device, and all money staked or exhibited to allure persons to bet at such table, or upon such gaming device, may be seized by order of a court, or under the warrant of a justice, and the money so seized shall be forfeited to the county and paid into the treasury of the county in which such seizure is made, and the table, faro bank, machine or gaming device shall be completely destroyed: Provided, however, That the provisions of this section shall not extend to coin-operated nonpayout machines with free play feature or to automatic weighing, measuring, musical and vending machines which are so constructed as to give a certain uniform and fair return in value or services for each coin deposited therein and in which there is no element of chance.

    §61-10-5 states that playing in a game is illegal.

    Betting on games of chance; furnishing money or thing of value therefor; penalty. -- If any person at any place, public or private, bet or wage money or other thing of value on any game of chance, or shall knowingly furnish any money or other thing of value to any other person to bet or wage on any such game, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be fined not less than five nor more than three hundred dollars, and shall, if required by the court, give security for his good behavior for one year, and in default of the payment of such fine and the costs and the execution of such bond, if such bond be required, shall be imprisoned in the county jail not less than ten nor more than thirty days.

Wisconsin

  • General gambling laws: Chapter 945.
  • Official source? Yes.
  • Social games legal? .
  • Social game reference: 945.02 states that gambling is illegal.

    "Gambling. Whoever does any of the following is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor:
    (1) Makes a bet; or
    (2) Enters or remains in a gambling place with intent to make a bet, to participate in a lottery, or to play a gambling machine; or
    (3) Conducts a lottery, or with intent to conduct a lottery, possesses facilities to do so."

Wyoming

  • General gambling laws: Title 6. Chapter 7. Article 1.
  • Official source? Yes - the state of Wyoming web site.
  • Social games legal? Yes.
  • Social game reference: Title 6, Chapter 7-101 iii (E) states:

    (iii) "Gambling" means risking any property for gain contingent in whole or in part upon lot, chance, the operation of a gambling device or the happening or outcome of an event, including a sporting event, over which the person taking a risk has no control, but does not include any of the following:
    (E) Any game, wager or transaction which is incidental to a bona fide social relationship, is participated in by natural persons only, and in which no person is participating, directly or indirectly, in professional gambling;"

COMMENTS:

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I am new to this state and moved from a state where home games were allowed. Tennesse law states "A person guilty of gambling has committed a Class C misdemeanor. A person guilty of organizing, promoting, moderating gambling is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor". Does this mean that a home owner cannot have a private game with very low stakes (say less than $100) where ony the winners take the pot??? Or are we not allowed to have a home game period?? Thank you for any information.

gumbosavage1 on January 15, 2012

whats are the laws in kansas ?

tommysnare on November 14, 2011

A casual reading of California's Gambling Control Act might give one the impression that home games are illegal, IF one makes the assumption that Poker is "Gambling".

But read further and we find that Section 19805(j) defines "Gambling" as a "controlled game", and Section 19805(e) refers us to subdivision (e) of Section 337(j) of the Penal Code for a definition of "controlled game".

Jump to Penal Code 337(j), and we find-

"(2) As used in this section, "controlled game" does NOT include any of the following:
- (A) The game of bingo conducted pursuant to Section 326.5.
- (B) Parimutuel racing on horse races regulated by the California Horse Racing Board.
- (C) Any lottery game conducted by the California State Lottery.
- (D) Games played with cards in private homes or residences, in which no person makes money for operating the game, except as a player."

While there might be other laws banning home poker games in California, a thorough reading of the Gambling Control Act makes it clear that it does not restrict home games.

JeffeVerde on June 24, 2011

I live in Ohio. You have the law interpreted correctly. You can have a private game for any stakes you want as long as nobody profits from entree fees, rake in any form, or paying the dealer in any way. There are some card clubs that allow members to play on premise, they get around the law by having a membership for the club and they self deal. You can't play legally in bars.

jeff kolman on March 8, 2011

I think it would depend on what state you are in.

HPG ADMIN on March 1, 2011

I wanted to confirm organising a small poker tournament is legal or not....taking litle bit of guest charges and sponsers and keepng food items will fetch sumthng to the organisers and the winner of poker will get big prize money or gift....plezzz do reply....

saurabh mishra on March 1, 2011

State laws for NC ? Anyone know for home gaming?

the deezer on January 17, 2011

Yeah, it says that you can't bang the livestock just because it's cold.

mike

mrkromer on February 6, 2009

Is there anything on Oregon laws?

Oregon Aces on February 5, 2009

Why can i not find any info on home poker laws for colorado??

lefty on November 17, 2008

Hiya,
I am inquiring for anyone's input as to whether dealing for someoe's home game is illegal or not!

If I was to take no rake or hourly charge but charge a service fee before the gme for supplying gear and dealer would that be considered illegal?

I've been asked to do so in Colorado but even so would like to know the legal opinions state to state!

Cheers,
JD

Chotsworth on May 31, 2008

Hey, I am moving to the Portland area soon and was wondering if you knew anything about Oregon laws for setting up home games. Also, is a 100 dollar buy-in no limit cash game considered "low limit"? thanks for the help.

username on May 5, 2008

Hi there. I wanted to discuss gambling law in Ohio. I'm basing my arguments on a copy of the law found at:
http://www.gambling-law-us.com/State-Laws/Ohio/
so I may be out of date.

The definition of "games of chance" (2915.01-D) includes poker. However, there is a separate definition for "games of chance conducted for profit" (2915.01-E) in which someone is running the game for income. The law against gambling (2915.02-A) forbids the latter category (GoCCfP) outright but only forbids the former (GoC) when it is a significant source of income. The section describing a "gambling house" (2915.03) refers back to the prior section (2915.02). There is a third section forbidding games of chance in public places (2915.04).

By these standards, it seems that someone who runs a poker game in a private place is not breaking the law, so long as they don't charge a fee or rake. Similarly, someone playing in such a game would be legal so long as they are not playing professionally.

My thinking is that a recreational, low-stakes home poker game is legal in Ohio. Do you think this is reasonable, or am I making a wishful interpretation?

raronow on February 14, 2008

Home Game Setup - Home Poker Law

HPG ADMIN on June 15, 2006

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