One of just four designated Commonwealths in the US, Kentucky is the 37th largest state and 26th most populated with 4,395,295 residents (est. 2013). The most famous landmark in the Bluegrass State is Churchill Downs, the home of the Triple Crown thoroughbred horse racing event, the Kentucky Derby. In fact, the state got its nickname from the excellent grade of grasslands, perfectly suited for ranching. As such, Kentucky is brimming with livestock, including horses, cattle and goats. And while pari-mutuel betting is always in the limelight, there are no other regulated forms of gambling in the state outside of the Kentucky Lottery.
For online poker players, it raises the question of whether playing over the internet for real money is illegal. History has proven time and again that, just because something isn’t expressly legal doesn’t make it illegal by default. In many state, online poker falls into a grey area due to antiquated statutes. This article will examine the laws of gambling and online poker in Kentucky to determine which category it falls into.
Land-based Gambling in Kentucky
Government officials in Kentucky have no problem generating tax dollars from gambling, as is evident by the abundance of pari-mutuel horse racing facilities in the area that date as far back as the late 18th century. The Kentucky Lottery has been running strong since 1989, and charitable bingo games are also a popular pastime for residents. But because casino gambling and poker are not on the menu, it could spell disaster for online poker players in Kentucky. To determine the legalities of iGaming, we must turn directly to the state’s legislative arena.
Deciphering the Laws of Kentucky as they relate to Online Poker
Chapter 528 of the Kentucky Revised Statues deals with all things related to gambling. The following excerpts were taken directly from that chapter as they may pertain to the legalities of online poker. A brief description of each passage is provided for convenience.
|Section||Text||Meaning (in re online poker)|
|528.010 Definitions||(3) (a) “Gambling” means staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device which is based upon an element of chance, in accord with an agreement or understanding that someone will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. A contest or game in which eligibility to participate is determined by chance and the ultimate winner is determined by skill shall not be considered to be gambling.||Any game in which an element of chance is present is considered gambling. Games of skill where the players are chosen at random are not illegal. Poker is generally considered a game of skill with an element of chance, thus the first definition (i.e. illegal) would most likely apply.|
|(4) “Gambling device” means:
(a) Any so-called slot machine or any other machine or mechanical device an essential part of which is a drum or reel… by the operation of which a person may become entitled to receive, as the result of the application of an element of chance, any money or property; or
(b) Any other machine or any mechanical or other device…designed and manufactured primarily for use in connection with gambling and which when operated may deliver, as the result of the application of an element of chance, any money or property…
|A computer or mobile device cannot be classified as a gambling device because it has multiple uses and is not primarily designed for gambling.|
|(7) “Player” means a person who engages in any form of gambling solely as a contestant or bettor, without receiving or becoming entitled to receive any profit therefrom other than personal gambling winnings… The status of a “player” shall be a defense to any prosecution under this chapter.||A player is defined as someone who only gains from gambling by personal winnings. Being a player is not considered ‘profiting from gambling’.|
Is Online Poker Illegal in Kentucky?
No. Although online poker is not regulated in Kentucky, there is no evidence to support a prohibition against the activity. The only gambling related crimes that enforce a penalty are those that involve profiting from gambling. To profit is to make money outside of personal gambling winnings, such as being paid to promote a game. Being a “player” is not listed as a crime.
The definition of gambling device includes only slot machines and devices designed so that gambling is the primary use, such as roulette wheels or keno machines.
The definition of gambling may or may not include poker, based on whether a judge considers poker a game of skill with or without an element of chance. But again, with no penalty imposed upon players, online poker should not be deemed illegal in Kentucky.
In a document entitled Issues Confronting the 2012 Kentucky General Assembly, even state lawmakers were confused as to whether online poker was illegal in the state. Due to the verbiage of the UIGEA, which made it illegal to wager over the internet on games of chance (not skill), officials wrote, “it is unclear whether online poker constitutes unlawful Internet gambling.”
Is Kentucky working to Legalize Online Poker?
Not yet. A lot of online gambling related issues have arisen in Kentucky, dating back shortly after passage of the UIGEA. In September of 2008, the Commonwealth seized control of 141 so-called illegal online gambling domains, citing that Kentucky was losing tens of millions of dollars a year to online gambling. That same year, the governor supported a land-based casino bill, but legislators voted it down. Yearly rejection of bills designed to bring casino gambling to the state has become a pattern ever since.
It is doubtful that Kentucky will move to regulate online poker anytime soon; at least not before the state manages to get a land-based casino industry up and running. Once that happens, the addition of online poker and/or casino gaming will likely be based upon competition. At present, only Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey offer iGaming markets; none of which are too close to the borders of Kentucky. But by the time brick-and-mortar casinos come to the Bluegrass State, the outlook could be a lot brighter.
Online Poker Players from Kentucky
Like every other state, Kentucky is the home to a number of online poker players, some who’ve recorded a great deal of success in the profession. One of the more prominent names is Brad “riggsb” Riggs of Bowling Green, KY, who’s racked up nearly $1 million at both PokerStars and Full Tilt combined. Other high-profile online poker players from Kentucky include Daniel “D.scroggins” Scroggins and Joe “jhizzle24” Hook.
Land-Based Card Rooms in Kentucky
None. Kentucky is home to more than half a dozen pari-mutuel racing facilities, including Churchill Downs, but no casinos or racinos have been authorized. The state does not even have any tribal casino establishments to speak of.