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Old 01-28-2009
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A "Poker Peek" at State Home Poker Game Laws

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A "POKER PEEK" AT STATE HOME GAME LAWS

by dennis63

Writer's note: This article contains a list of U.S. states and the apparent status of social home poker in each. It is not legal advice, but is intended as a starting point for you as you confirm the legality of your own home game.

With the New Year, I used the "Poker and the Law" forum to ask the 10,000 members of Chiptalk:

"Is a social home poker game or tournament, played for money or prizes, legal in your state?"




Chiptalk members provided clear answers in a dozen states, but the status of home poker was not so clear in many others. I searched the Internet for information, but found some sources disagreed on several states, while I found websites that were just plain wrong about my own home state of Delaware. I decided to simply search the published statutes in each state for their gambling sections. To my surprise, most were easily accessible and very clear on the issue. In all but a handful of states, the answer was clear -- social home poker games are either expressly permitted, or all gambling was illegal -- no gray areas.

I was left with a list of a half dozen "foggy" states, where the law wasn't clear -- to me or the officials charged with enforcing it. I e-mailed the attorneys general or gaming control boards in each of those states. I spoke with AGs, gaming officials and police officers. All were very helpful. Finally, a draft was posted to the Wiki, and members provided new information to correct two states.

This article is the end result of that work, and lists the collective "best guess" of all involved. It includes information provided by our members. In each case, it's based on the written state statute, published court findings or prosecutor's opinions, and my own e-mails and phone calls to officials, where noted.

The list is not legal advice. If you don't already know the legal status of your home game, contact your state Attorney General's Office, Gaming Control Board, or police department before you deal, or you might be cashing in your chips for bail money. The list is intended as a starting point for you, providing a likely status and the legal reference for you to confirm the legality of your home game -- or plan a trip to Vegas, Atlantic City, or one of the riverboats plying the Mississippi.

But first, what is a "social game?"

A social game is a fair card game among friends or family members, played for money inside a private home. There can be no admission charged, no seat fee, and no rake, and 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, and there is no house bank. No professional gamblers or strangers are allowed, and the game can't be advertised to the public. Some states require that the players have a "bona fide social relationship --" that they know one another outside the game.

And of course, no other shenanigans. You can't hide behind "social game" status if you've got a cash bar, illegal drugs, strippers, gunfire, or a Brinks truck dropping off sacks of money.

While all that sounds like a lot, it's probably how most of you use all those fantastic casino chips you've been collecting -- playing cards at home with friends, family and a tray of food and bucket of cold, ah, beverages. To be clear, Texas Holdem qualifies as a "fair" card game, as it does not favor a particular player if the "dealer" or a dealer button rotates around the table.

Click the image to open in full size.

If you want to charge admission or collect a rake to finance your game, you need to get a casino license, a cardroom license, or a charity or non-profit special events permit. Most states allow for all of these things.

On the issue of collecting for food and drinks: I would not recommend allowing money to change hands at the game for this expense. Generally, if you host, you should serve snacks as a courtesy. If your group likes to go all out on the buffet table, consider rotating the game location and make the host responsible for the spread, or make it an option for your players to each bring some light fare to the game.

A summary of our findings:

In all, 26 states permit social card games in private homes. Twenty-one of these actually use the term "social game --" 17 to say they're legal and four more to make playing in a social game a defense to any gambling prosecution. A few states have limits on what each player can bet on a single hand of cards or in a single day. Five more states permit social games by carefully phrasing their law to prohibit other gambling, which I call "permitted by omission" states.

Another 23 states strictly prohibit gambling altogether, as does the District of Columbia.

The final state, Pennsylvania, is unusual. It has strict laws prohibiting all gambling, and a State Supreme Court decision that specifically says:
"The sporadic or casual act of playing cards or betting is not an indictable offense in Pennsylvania." (Commonwealth v. Silverman (97 Pitts., L.J. 88, 1949)."

Because of this ruling, at least one district attorney in the Keystone state has said he will not prosecute anyone who plays cards with friends in a private home. It makes for an odd mix -- illegal but unlikely to be prosecuted. The court didn't say the games were "legal." They said playing "is not an indictable offense." So I've concluded that home games are (still) illegal in Pennsylvania.

Finally, I admit to erring on the side of caution. If your state law is vague on the act of gambling, but will send you up the river for even possessing a poker table, casino chips or cards, I listed it as "illegal" to play in a social game.

Terms, Quoted Materials and Contributor Credit

The terms "PERMITTED" and "ILLEGAL" are used to avoid confusion. Chiptalk contributors are noted. I will store e-mail responses I've received, and notes taken from phone calls. If anyone would like a specific response forwarded for their own use or to confirm its validity, please PM me.

To find your home state law

I was able to locate the state statutes of each state by Googling the state name and the terms "statutes," "criminal code," or "penal code." (Hint: If you search the term "law" you'll end up with a list of lawyers.) Most state websites have search windows where you can enter "gambling" or "gaming" as a topic. If you find yourself searching through chapter lists, look first for a chapter that says "criminal code" or "specific offenses."

Corrections, changes and updates

I welcome all information that might lead to corrections, changes and updates, and offer the list to our members with two hopes:
1. that the list remain alive, changing as the laws are changed or reinterpreted by the courts; and
2. that within five years, we can discard it altogether, as the remaining laws against social games are modernized, and we no longer need to ask, "Is my home game legal?" Until then, here's the list:

The List: Home Poker Laws by State

ALABAMA
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: Chapter 13 A 12-21
Comments: Alabama law includes a defense to prosecution that the game was a private, social game.

ALASKA
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: 11 06 200
Comments: Alaska law includes a defense to prosecution that the game was a private social game.

ARIZONA
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: 13 3302 A2 (7)
Comments: Social games are expressly permitted.

ARKANSAS
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: 5 66 104
Comments: One of the most strict laws, it specifically outlaws the playing of poker.

CALIFORNIA
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: 337 j (2) (D)
Comments: In an e-mail response to our question, the California Attorney General's Office declined to give an opinion, saying the Penal Code was "clear as mud."
Chiptalk contributors: whippoker and OnTheButton

COLORADO
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: Title 18, Section 10, 102 (2) (d)
Comments: Social games are expressly permitted.
Chiptalk contributor: kmalsom

CONNECTICUT
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: Title 53, Section 278 b
Comments: Social games are expressly permitted.

DELAWARE
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Title 11, Section 1403 to 1408
Comments: Section prohibits all but state-licensed gambling.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Social games are: ILLEGAL
City ordinance reference: 22-1704
Comments: The section appears very strict.

FLORIDA
Social games are PERMITTED, with a limit
State law reference: Title 46, Section 849-085
Comments: Florida expressly permits "penny ante games" where betting is limited to $10 per hand for each player.

GEORGIA
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: 16 12 21
Comments: Section prohibits all but state-licensed gambling.

HAWAII
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: 712 1231
Comments: Social games are expressly permitted.

IDAHO
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law refeence: Title 18, Section 3802
Comments: Section prohibits all but state-licensed gambling.

ILLINOIS
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law section: Title 5, Section 1301
Comments: Section prohibits all but state-licensed gambling.
Chiptalk contributor: Nicawompus

INDIANA
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Title 35, Article 45, Section 2
Comments: A subsection specifically prohibits the playing of poker.

IOWA
Social games are: PERMITTED, with a limit
State law reference: 99b. 12 (1) (g)
Comments: Social games are expressly permitted with a limit of $50 won or lost in any 24-hour period.

KANSAS
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Title 21, Section 4303
Comments: Section prohibits all but state-licensed gambling.

KENTUCKY
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: Section 528.010
Comments: Social games are expressly permitted.

LOUISIANA
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: Title 14, Section 90.2
Comments: A "permitted by omission" state, the law prohibits gambling as a business for profit.

MAINE
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: Title 39, Section 952 8
Comments: Social games are expressly permitted.

MARYLAND
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Title 12, Section 102
Comments: Section prohibits all but state-licensed gambling.

MASSACHUSETTS
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 271, Section 1
Comments: In an e-mail response to our question, the Massachusetts Attorney General's office politely referred us to any of its state's law libraries. A published AG's opinion on poker tournaments made their stance clear, noting that all betting of any money or thing of value was illegal, except for a small area "carved out" by the legislature to allow for charity and non-profit benefits.

MICHIGAN
Social games are PERMITTED
State law reference: 432 202
Comments: Social games are expressly permitted.
Chiptalk contributor: Ragman

MINNESOTA
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: 609-75, Subdivision 3 (5)
Comments: Social games are expressly permitted.

MISSISSIPPI
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Title 97, Section 33-1
Comments: Only licensed riverboat casinos are permitted.

MISSOURI
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: 572-010
Comments: Only licensed casinos are permitted.

MONTANA
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: Title 23, Chapter 5-151
Comments: A "permitted by omission" state, where only public gambling is outlawed. In a January 16 e-mail answer to our question, an official of the Montana Department of Justice Division of Gambling Control confirmed this status, and wrote, "The State of Montana has no interest in a poker game such as a group of friends getting together at someone's house on Friday night around a kitchen table playing Texas Hold Em for money. That is the definition of a private game, and is completely legal."

NEBRASKA
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: 28-1112 (v)
Comments: Nebraska law includes a defense to prosecution that the game was a private social game.

NEVADA
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: Title 41, Section 463.0143
Comments: Social games expressly permitted.

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Title 62, Chapter 647:2
Comments: Section prohibits all but state-licensed gambling.
Chiptalk contributor: guinness

NEW JERSEY
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: Constitution of New Jersey, New Jersey Gaming Commission
Comments: The New Jersey Constitution prohibits gambling, and the state's written laws focus on regulated casino gambling. In a January 22 telephone call, a detective with the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice confirmed that social games were legal in New Jersey but must comply with the definition of a social game we've included in this article. He noted, "If you're playing at a card room, you can't make an announcement at the end of the night that you're hosting a home game after closing."

NEW MEXICO
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Title 30, Article 19
Comments: The section is a strict prohibition on gambling.

NEW YORK
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: Consolidated Laws, Section 225.00 3
Comments: Social games are expressly permitted.

NORTH CAROLINA
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: General Statutes, Chapter 14, Section 292
Comments: Section prohibits all but state-licensed gambling.

NORTH DAKOTA
Social games are: PERMITTED with a limit
State law reference: 12.1-28-02 1
Comments: A "permitted by omission" state, the law only makes it illegal for a player to wager more than $25 per hand.

OHIO
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: Chapter 29, Section 2915.02
Comments: The law prohibits "professional gambling." Non-professional games are not regulated.

OKLAHOMA
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Title 21, Section 942
Comments: The illegal status of home games was clearly expressed in an AG's opinion published May 20, 2005.
Chiptalk contributor: retravoh

OREGON
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: Title 4, Chapter 167.117
Comments: Social games are expressly permitted.

PENNSYLVANIA
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Penal code, Section 5513
Comments: A state supreme court decision (Commonwealth v. Sullivan, 1949) says playing in a social game is "not an indictable offense in Pennsylvania" but the law remains on the books.
Chiptalk conrtributor: Lottery Larry

RHODE ISLAND
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Title 11, Section 11-19-1
Comments: Section prohibits all but state-licensed gambling.

SOUTH CAROLINA
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Title 16, Chapter 19, Section 40
Comments: Pending legislation would, if passed, legalize social games in South Carolina.
Chiptalk contributor: DavidP

SOUTH DAKOTA
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Title 22, Section 25-1
Comment: Section prohibits all but state-licensed gambling.

TENNESSEE
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: 39-17-502 (a)
Comments: Section prohibits all but state-licensed gambling.

TEXAS
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: Texas Penal Code, Title 10, Chapter 47, Section 4702 (b) (1)
Comments: Texas law includes a defense to prosecution that the game was a private, social game.

UTAH
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Title 76, Chapter 10, Section 1102
Comments: Section prohibits all but state-licensed gambling.

VERMONT
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Title 13, Chapter 51, Section 2133, 2134
Comment: Section prohibits all but state-licensed gambling.

VIRGINIA
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: 18 2-334
Comments: Social games expressly permitted.
Chip Talk contributor: HoosCrazyNow

WASHINGTON
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: Revised Code of Washington, Title 9, Chapter 46, Section 0265
Comments: The section expressly permits "non-professional" gambling in "social games."
Chiptalk contributors: jojobinks and jonah99

WEST VIRGINIA
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Chapter 61, Section 61-10-5
Comments: The section strictly prohibits all betting, public or private.

WISCONSIN
Social games are: ILLEGAL
State law reference: Section 945.02
Comments: Section prohibits all but state-licensed gambling.

WYOMING
Social games are: PERMITTED
State law reference: Title 6, Section 6-7 101 iii (a) iii (E)
Comments: Section expressly permits social games, but requires a "bona fide social relationship" among players.

Last edited by TenPercenter; 01-09-2011 at 08:02 PM.
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Old 01-28-2009
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Re: A "Poker Peek" at State Home Game Laws

This is great Dennis. Wonderful job. I dont have any change suggestions so let me know when you're ready to publish.
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Old 01-29-2009
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Re: A "Poker Peek" at State Home Game Laws

Amazing article and a fantastic resource! What an amazing piece of work.

I went in and fixed three spelling typos, one each in Florida, Texas and New York, but that was all I really noticed.

"Print It!"
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Old 01-29-2009
Final Table
 
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Re: A "Poker Peek" at State Home Game Laws

Interesting thread. I'm not sure about the information provided for in Michigan. I've visited a number of websites stating that in Michigan it's legal to have a home game, provided there is no rake and no minors present.
Any other Michiganders want to chime in?
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Old 01-29-2009
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Re: A "Poker Peek" at State Home Game Laws

I understand the issue. Here's my reasoning for saying "illegal" on Michigan:

Michigan's statutes say if you keep a poker table in any place you own, it's up to a $1,000 fine and one year in jail, double that if you assist in the conduct of the game. They also went out of their way to exempt seniors, who get to play for 5 cents a hand and $5 a day. The Michigan attorney general also refused to license a casino dealer's school, writinig in a published opinion that the state "does not license a school to teach people to engage in criminal activity."

If anyone can find tangible information that home poker is legal in Michigan, we can quickly update the list. I've already e-mailed the Michigan AG's office to see if we get a different opinion.

This is good. The discussion has started.

Last edited by dennis63; 01-29-2009 at 01:51 AM. Reason: Added info
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Old 01-29-2009
Final Table
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Michigan's "Thumb"
Age: 54
Posts: 673
Re: A "Poker Peek" at State Home Game Laws

Looking forward to seeing if you get a reply from the AG.
BTW, I have 3 tables and am running a tournament Super Bowl Sunday....so that could mean $6000 and 6 years in jail!!!
Oh well, it's worth it!

Quote:
Originally Posted by dennis63 View Post
I understand the issue. Here's my reasoning for saying "illegal" on Michigan:

Michigan's statutes say if you keep a poker table in any place you own, it's up to a $1,000 fine and one year in jail, double that if you assist in the conduct of the game. They also went out of their way to exempt seniors, who get to play for 5 cents a hand and $5 a day. The Michigan attorney general also refused to license a casino dealer's school, writinig in a published opinion that the state "does not license a school to teach people to engage in criminal activity."

If anyone can find tangible information that home poker is legal in Michigan, we can quickly update the list. I've already e-mailed the Michigan AG's office to see if we get a different opinion.

This is good. The discussion has started.
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Old 01-29-2009
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Re: A "Poker Peek" at State Home Game Laws

Great job on the article, and thanks for compiling all the info - I'm sure it was not quick or easy. Thanks also for the nod on contributing the OK info, but you might take a second look at the spelling of my CT name in the article.
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Old 01-29-2009
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Re: A "Poker Peek" at State Home Game Laws

retravoh - corrected. My apologies.
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Old 01-29-2009
Big Stack
 
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Re: A "Poker Peek" at State Home Game Laws

Excellent article.

Two typos I noticed:

"bonda fide social relationship"

collectinig for food and drinks
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Old 01-29-2009
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Re: A "Poker Peek" at State Home Game Laws

Thanks, Big. Fixed.
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