The state of Georgia is of very average size, listed as the 24th largest in the US, but packs a large number of residents into its borders as the 8th most populous in the nation. The economy is outstanding; home to more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies and two dozen Fortune 1000 companies, as well as the world’s busiest airport in terms of passenger/aircraft traffic. Needless to say, the government’s tax coffers aren’t lacking in surfeit. However, not a single penny of that revenue comes from gambling.
Georgia is included in an exclusive, southwestern region of the United States commonly referred to as the Bible Belt. States within this region are generally dominated by a profound Christian mindset with a distinct aversion to unseemly activities; gambling among them. It’s been that way for centuries, and with a government driven by the voting public, it’s not likely to change anytime soon. The question this article aims to answer is, from a legal standpoint, where does this leave online poker players in Georgia?
Land-based Gambling in Georgia
There are absolutely no land-based gambling destinations in Georgia; not even of the tribal variety. The only types of legalized gambling are the state lottery, licensed bingo facilities and charitable raffles. Georgians have three options if they wish to place a wager of any other kind. They can travel outside the state to somewhere like Florida, where gambling is a lawfully accepted activity; they can jump aboard the Emerald Princess Casino Cruise that departs from Brunswick Landing Marina daily (although the casino doesn’t open until the ship reaches federal waters); or they can log onto any international online poker site that accepts players from Georgia. Whether doing the latter is legal, however, is a matter of wide debate.
Deciphering the Laws of Georgia as they relate to Online Poker
It’s quite apparent that Georgia has not elected to legalize online poker, but that alone doesn’t make the activity illegal. For that, we refer to the state’s explicit gambling laws. The following is a list of all laws that may relate to online poker, taken directly from the Georgia Code, Title 16, Chapter 12, Article 2, Gambling.
|Section||Text||Meaning (in re online poker)|
|§16-12-20 Definitions||(1) “Bet” means an agreement that, dependent upon chance even though accompanied by some skill, one stands to win or lose something of value…||Playing poker for real money, despite the measure of skill involved, is defined as betting.|
|(2) “Gambling device” means:
(A) Any contrivance which for a consideration affords the player an opportunity to obtain money or other thing of value, the award of which is determined by chance even though accompanied by some skill, whether or not the prize is automatically paid by contrivance…
|Although the terminology is incredibly vague, such a contrivance could include a computer or mobile device if used to play online poker for real money.|
|§16-12-21 Gambling||(a) A person commits the offense of gambling when he:
(3) Plays and bets for money or other thing of value at any game played with cards, dice, or balls.
|To play poker for money is illegal in Georgia.|
|(b) A person who commits the offense of gambling shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.||The penalty for illegal gambling is up to 12 months in jail and/or $1,000 fine.|
Is Online Poker Illegal in Georgia?
Yes. Unfortunately, despite the antiquated language of the state’s code of law, online poker is plainly illegal in Georgia. The text does define a bet, which would clearly include betting on a poker game, but does not define how or where that bet must be placed to be considered unlawful. Therefore any person physically located in the state may not place a bet of any kind (except on the lottery, or authorized raffles and bingo games). Furthermore, the definition of a gambling device is even more elusive and could easily target a computer or mobile device used to play poker online.
Not only is internet poker illegal in Georgia, it comes with a rather hefty penalty of up to a year in jail and $1,000 in fines.
Is Georgia working to Legalize Online Poker?
No. As mentioned above, Georgia is part of the Bible Belt and the majority of its citizens are vehemently opposed to most forms of gambling. Considering the affluent state of the economy, government officials have no need to turn to gambling to supplement tax income either. There have been no moves to legalize and regulate online poker in the Peach State, and I don’t anticipate such legislation will surface any time in the foreseeable future.
Online Poker Players from Georgia
Perhaps the most famous online poker pro from Georgia is David “gunslinger3” Bach. He is a fantastic player at the live tables, has one WSOP bracelet under his belt and $3.39 million in major live tournament winnings. His online prowess was greatly stunted by the events of Black Friday, having cashed in just one event after April of 2011, but up until that point he had captured one SCOOP title in 2010 and pocketed $187k by taking down the esteemed PokerStars Sunday Million back on August 17, 2008. His online poker tournament winnings currently amount to $283,472.
Other prominent online poker players form Georgia include Zach “Yettimann” Shelnutt, Mike “MJCACE” Carlson, Mathieu “i_break-u” Frenchy K. and Kevin “kevdog410” McDonald.
Land-Based Card Rooms in Georgia
As we’ve already established, there are no traditionally “land-based” poker rooms in Georgia. However, there is one way to play poker in the state for real money. The Emerald Princess Casino Cruise leaves the dock in Brunswick, GA every day for 5-hour trips into federal waters, where the laws of the Peach State no longer apply to those on board. The cruise ship features 6 Texas Holdem tables and 2 Stud Poker tables, along with other casino amusements. Unfortunately, you won’t find any tournament action here – it’s all cash games among the local voyagers.
Emerald Princess Casino Cruise
Location: Brunswick, GA
Poker Room: Yes