Hawaii isn’t known for its girth, being the 8th smallest state in the US, but it does have a comparably dense population of 1,404,054 (est. 2013), ranked 39th largest in the nation. Just hearing the name Hawaii invokes mental imagery of exotic expanses of beach lines, steaming volcanoes and an eternally tropical climate befitting of vacationers, surfers and archeologists alike. An extended vacay in the Aloha State is the dream of many around the world. But the last thing that probably comes to mind when planning a trip to the area is casino gambling.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of gambling enthusiasts in Hawaii, but short of leaving the 7 islands, they’ll have to take their pastime into cyberspace. Online poker is the only way to get a traditional real money game of Texas Holdem going in the Aloha State, barring a social game at your friend’s kitchen table. The question many Hawaiians would like answered s whether it’s legal or illegal to play online poker in Hawaii.
Land-based Gambling in Hawaii
Ask any resident of the archipelago and they’ll surely tell you that gambling has no place in the traditional Hawaiian culture. The state has no poker rooms or casinos, not even of the tribal variety. You can’t even find a legal bingo game in the state. In fact, Hawaii is 1 of just 7 states that do not have a state-authorized lottery, and 1 of just 2 states that offer absolutely no legal forms of gambling.
Without a doubt, tourism is the largest industry in Hawaii, making up nearly 25% of the government’s taxable revenue, but other major exports like tropical fruits, nuts, honey, and especially honeybees, are valuable assets for the state, along with things like military and whaling industries. Point being, Hawaii does not want, or need, any type of gambling industry to fill its tax coffers.
Deciphering the Laws of Hawaii as they relate to Online Poker
Land-based gambling may be entirely off the menu, but what about online poker in Hawaii? To determine whether it’s legal, illegal or one of the grey areas of the law, we must examine the verbose language of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, particularly Part III, Gambling Offenses.
|Section||Text||Meaning (in re online poker)|
|§712-1220 Definitions||(1) “Advance gambling activity”. A person “advances gambling activity” if he engages in conduct that materially aids any form of gambling activity. Conduct of this nature includes…the creation or establishment of the particular game…acquisition or maintenance of premises, paraphernalia, equipment, or apparatus therefor…solicitation or inducement of persons to participate therein…actual conduct of the playing phases thereof…arrangement of any of its financial or recording phases…any other phase of its operation. A person advances gambling activity if, having substantial proprietary control or other authoritative control over premises…permits that activity to occur or continue or makes no effort to prevent its occurrence or continuation. A person advances gambling activity if he plays or participates in any form of gambling activity.||Pay close attention to the very last sentence. A person advances gambling activity if he pays or participates in any form of gambling activity. That means just by playing, even without standing to make any other profit outside of gambling winnings, a player is considered to be advancing gambling activity. Such a violation is generally reserved for operators, promoters, etc., but that’s not the case in Hawaii.|
|(3) “Contest of chance” means any contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device in which the outcome depends in a material degree upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that skill of the contestants may also be a factor therein.||Contests of chance can be accompanied by skill, therefore would include poker games.|
|(4) “Gambling”. A person engages in gambling if he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance…upon an agreement or understanding that he or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome….||When played for real money, poker is defined as gambling.|
|(5) “Gambling device” means any device, machine, paraphernalia, or equipment that is used or usable in the playing phases of any gambling activity, whether that activity consists of gambling between persons or gambling by a person involving the playing of a machine…||A computer or mobile device used to play online poker could conceivably be defined as a gambling device because it is a machine being used to participate in gambling. There is no indication that gambling has to be the primary use of the machine.|
|(8) “Player” means a person who engages in gambling solely as a contestant or bettor.||A poker player who does not stand to make any profit other than by personal gambling winnings is a player. (Note that players are also said to be advancing gambling activity.)|
|(11) “Something of value” means any money or property, any token, object, or article exchangeable for money or property, or any form of credit or promise directly or indirectly contemplating transfer of money or property or of any interest therein, or involving extension of a service or entertainment.||Funds in an online poker account used for wagering would qualify as something of value.|
|§712-1221 Promoting gambling in the first degree||(1) A person commits the offense of promoting gambling in the first degree if the person knowingly advances or profits from gambling activity by:
(c) Receiving or having become due and payable in connection with a lottery, mutuel, or other gambling scheme or enterprise, more than $1,000 in any seven-day period played in the scheme or enterprise.
|If an online poker player wins $1,000+ in a 7-day period, they have committed the offense of promoting gambling.|
|(2) Promoting gambling in the first degree is a class C felony.||A Class C Felony carries a penalty of up to 5 years in prison and up to $10,000 fine.|
|§712-1222 Promoting gambling in the second degree||(1) A person commits the offense of promoting gambling in the second degree if the person knowingly advances or profits from gambling activity.||Playing online poker for real money and winning an amount below $1,000 in a 7-day period is a second degree offense.|
|(1) A person commits the offense of promoting gambling in the second degree if the person knowingly advances or profits from gambling activity.||A second degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 1 year in jail and up to $2,000 fine.|
|§712-1231 Social gambling||(a) Definition. “Social gambling” means gambling in which all of the following conditions are present:
(1) Players compete on equal terms…
(2) No player receives…anything of value…other than the player’s personal gambling winnings…
(3) No other…entity receives…anything of value…from any source, including but not limited to permitting the use of premises, supplying refreshments, food, drinks, service, lodging or entertainment…
(4) It is not conducted or played in or at…any…public area…
(5) None of the players is below the age of majority…
(6) The gambling activity is not bookmaking.
|A poker game played in a private residence is legal so long as no one but the players stand to win anything, and the profit can only be sustained from personal gambling winnings. Online poker sites collect rakes and tournament fees, therefore are not legal under the definition of a social game.|
Is Online Poker Illegal in Hawaii?
Yes. All forms of gambling outside of a social games are illegal. There are enough definitions to encompass playing poker over a computer or mobile device (gambling device) as being illegal. The penalty for illegal gambling is a stiff one, scaling from up to 1-5 years in jail and/or up to $2,000-$10,000 in fines, depending on how much the player wagers/wins in a 7-day period.
Is Hawaii working to Legalize Online Poker?
Maybe. Surprisingly, due to the sheer aversion to land-based gambling in the Aloha State, several legislative moves have been made in the last few years to legalize online gambling. The topic first came up in early 2011, just before Black Friday struck in fact, but the state dropped the idea just as quickly. In January of 2012, several bills were introduced in an effort to legalize online poker, as well as land-based casinos, but again, the proposition failed.
In early 2013, another attempt was made “for the purpose of conducting internet gambling in Hawaii”. That measure made it passed the first reading but was shelved by the next committee at bat. It was placed back on the docket for review in the 2014 legislative session, but thus far nothing has come of it.
Online Poker Players from Hawaii
You may be surprised to learn that, despite its size and antipathy for gambling, Hawaii is actually the birthplace of a few notable professional online poker players. These include avid grinders like David “dms460” Simon and Guy “GeVance” Kidder.
Land-Based Card Rooms in Hawaii
None. There are no casinos or poker rooms in Hawaii. There aren’t even any casino cruise ships sailing from the ports of the Aloha State.