Is Your Home Poker Game Illegal?

Monday, August 27, 2018

Lynn "Queen of Hearts" ParisLynn “Queen of Hearts” Paris 

I just learned something today that totally shocked me. Did you know that the weekly poker game you host in your man-cave – the one with the brand new custom Lumen poker table that you’re so proud of — or maybe The Lumen Poker Table the game you attend twice-a-month after hours at the office, is actually ILLEGAL in some states? Seriously. I knew there were some pretty obscure laws still on the books, like dogs aren’t permitted to bark after 6 P.M. in Little Rock, Arkansas, or bear wrestling is prohibited in Alabama and wading in public fountains is forbidden in parts of Kansas. But not being able to play poker in your own home? Talk about intrusive!

So, for those of you wanting to know if you’ve been breaking the law during your weekly poker game, the answer might be YES, if you reside in:

Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi (where you can bet on dog fighting, but not a home game of poker!) Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Of course, that still leaves plenty of states where hosting or attending a home or private poker game is perfectly legal. Take California and Colorado, for example, where you can legally play poker at home while smoking legal, recreational marijuana! (probably not a great idea, but still . . . it’s absolutely legal.) You’re also legal in Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, and North Dakota.

All of the above-mentioned legal “home poker” games, otherwise known as social gambling, abide by a set of guidelines that most of us accept as reasonable:

  1. The host, or homeowner, may not receive economic gain for hosting the game, only from personal winnings (no rakes allowed!);
  2. All players must have an equal opportunity to win and
  3. The poker game is played in a private setting (home, private club etc.)

I have no idea how these social guidelines are enforced, but you can add Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington to the list of legal states by that criterion. If you dig deeper into the laws for each state, you can find little quirks governing home poker games beyond the three social guidelines. For instance, in Colorado, Connecticut and Wyoming, players must be able to prove that they have a bona fide social relationship outside of a gambling setting. And in Florida, players are restricted to a $10 maximum limit on a single hand (known as “penny-ante” poker games.)

It’s all pretty confusing, especially once you get past the illegal states. That’s why, if you’ve been counting, there are only 48 states mentioned. The laws in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts don’t actually refer to home poker games at all, leaving it up to the residents to decide.

In fact, we’d be willing to bet (see how hard it is to avoid using gambling terminology?) that whatever state you live in, if you want to play poker at home with your friends you’ll find a way to shuffle up and deal. Good luck.

Send us your comments, questions or thoughts!

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