Missouri Online Poker Laws Explained

Missouri is a vast expanse of variable topography, highlighted by the Ozark Mountains to the south. It is the 21st largest state in the US and the 18th most populated with 6,044,171 residents (est. 2013). Economical resources are highly diverse, including everything from aerospace technology and chemical facilities to food and beer production. The gambling industry plays a large role in the state’s annual tax collections, home to more than a dozen commercially-run riverboat casinos along the territory’s extensive expanse of rivers. As for online poker regulations, such legislation has not yet come to pass in the Show-Me State.

Missouri was a hot bed of online poker activity for years, especially in the decade predating the events of Back Friday in 2011, but many players continue to log onto offshore websites to play real money Texas Holdem games over the internet. The resounding question is one of legal paradigm. Because online poker isn’t regulated in Missouri, does that make it illegal to play? Often times, the directives of the state put online poker into a grey area of the law. Our goal is to examine the gambling industry and relative legal statutes to determine if online poker is, in fact, illegal in Missouri.

Land-based Gambling in Missouri

The Show-Me State wasn’t always so acquiesce to the idea of legalized gambling. It wasn’t until 1985 that Missouri established a state-run lottery system, and nearly a decade later in 1993 that the Missouri Gaming Commission (MGC) was instituted to strictly regulate charitable bingo games and riverboat casino gambling. At that time, all licensed riverboat casinos were required to cruise along the river with $500 limits on losses per session, thus the cruises were restricted to 2-hour sessions. In 2000, the cruising law was lifted, allowing casinos to permanently dock their vessels. As such, most operators converted to barges, allowing them to restructure for the appearance of a genuine land-based casino, despite the fact that the establishment was still technically floating just offshore. The $500 loss limit was also lifted in 2008. One unique aspect of the MGC, thanks to the very strict regulatory codes, is that visitors can actually log onto the website and view monthly payout percentages of all slots and table game.

Deciphering the Laws of Missouri as they relate to Online Poker

The Chapter 572 of the Missouri Revised Statues deals with gambling. The following are citations from that text, including brief meanings to help discern the legal jargon.

Section Text Meaning (in re online poker)
572.010 Definitions (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 the skill of the contestants may also be a factor therein; Poker falls under this definition because a contest of chance can include skill games where chance also plays a factor.
(4) “Gambling”, a person engages in “gambling” when he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance…upon an agreement or understanding that he will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome… Gambling does not include any licensed activity… Gambling means to participate in a contest of chance (including poker) that is not licensed and authorized by the state of Missouri. If an online poker site is not licensed in the state, playing on that site for real money is considered 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 with a machine… Because a computer or mobile device can be “used…in the playing phases of any gambling activity”, it can be defined as a gambling device if used for playing real money online poker.
(8) “Player” means a person who engages in any form of gambling solely as a contestant or bettor, without receiving…any profit therefrom other than personal gambling winnings… Anyone who stands to gain nothing but personal gambling winnings is considered a player.
(9) “Professional player” means a player who engages in gambling for a livelihood or who has derived at least twenty percent of his income in any one year within the past five years from acting solely as a player; If 20% or more of a player’s annual income is derived from gambling, they are considered a professional player.
(10) “Profit from gambling activity”, a person “profits from gambling activity” if, other than as a player, he accepts or receives money or other property pursuant to an agreement or understanding with any person whereby he participates or is to participate in the proceeds of gambling activity; If a player stands to gain anything from gambling activity outside of personal winnings, it is defined as profit from gambling activity.
(13) “Unlawful” means not specifically authorized by law. Any gambling activity that is not expressly authorized by law is illegal by default.
572.020 Gambling 1. A person commits the crime of gambling if he knowingly engages in gambling. Online poker is illegal if that player knows they are competing for real money.
2. Gambling is a class C misdemeanor unless:
(1) It is committed by a professional player, in which case it is a class D felony; or
(2) The person knowingly engages in gambling with a minor, in which case it is a class B misdemeanor.
The penalty for gambling is up to 15 days in jail and up to $300 fine.
The penalty for gambling as a professional player is 2 to 4 years in prison and a fine of double the amount won from gambling, not to exceed $20,000.
572.070 Possession of a Gambling Device 1. A person commits the crime of possession of a gambling device if, with knowledge of the character thereof, he manufactures, sells, transports, places or possesses, or conducts or negotiates any transaction affecting or designed to affect ownership, custody or use of:
(1) A slot machine; or
(2) Any other gambling device, knowing or having reason to believe that it is to be used in the state of Missouri in the advancement of unlawful gambling activity.
Possessing a gambling device (i.e. a computer or mobile device used to play online poker for real money) is illegal.
2. Possession of a gambling device is a class A misdemeanor. Possession of a gambling device is punishable by up to 1 year in jail and up to $1,000 fine.


Is Online Poker Illegal in Missouri?

Yes. Considering the wide range of application for the state’s gambling definitions, it certainly does appear that online poker is illegal in Missouri. Poker is easily defined as gambling on a contest of chance, and if a gambling activity is not specifically authorized by the state, it is considered unlawful. Playing online poker for real money can carry variable penalties, depending on the amount won, and if convicted of possessing a gambling device, the punishment greatly increases.

Is Missouri working to Legalize Online Poker?

No. Unfortunately, Missouri seems to be an adversary of regulating online poker anywhere in the United States. There have been no bills introduced to legalize the activity in the state, but some politicians have supported measures in the opposite direction. Missouri’s Chris Koster was one of 10 attorneys general who signed a letter sent to Congress, the House and Senate Judiciary leaders early this year pleading the case for a blanket ban of online gambling in the US. Democratic Senator Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri’s 5th District was a backer for the Restoration of America’s Wire Act introduced to the House by Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah on March 26, 2014, which called for the same action. Suffice to say, it doesn’t look like Missouri will be jumping aboard the online poker regulation bandwagon anytime soon.

Online Poker Players from Missouri

Missouri is highly populated with online poker players that continue to grind the virtual felt. Some of the more outstanding players include Nathan “thedonator716” Kimbrow, Aaron “hightz” Corson, Mike “mikestl83” Johnson, Brandon “pokrjoker” Akin, Cameron “Cambo71” Somsky and Peter “Kleberson13” Triantafylidis.

Land-Based Card Rooms in Missouri

Just over a dozen casinos are spread across Missouri, many owned and operated by the big-name corporations of Las Vegas and Atlantic City (Caesars Entertainment, Penn National Gaming, Ameristar/Pinnacle, etc.) They are all riverboat casinos, perpetually docked riverside and most often built in such a way that visitors feel like they are walking into the doors of a traditional land-based casino, whereas in reality they are boarding a vessel.

Ameristar Casino – Kansas City
Location: Kansas City, MO
Poker Room: Yes

Ameristar Casino – St. Charles
Location: St. Charles, MO
Poker Room: Yes

Argosy Riverside
Location: Riverside, MO
Poker Room: Yes

Harrah’s Casino & Hotel
Location: North Kansas City, MO
Poker Room: Yes

Hollywood Casino St. Louis
Location: Maryland Heights, MO
Poker Room: Yes

Isle Casino
Location: Cape Girardeau, MO
Poker Room: Yes

Isle of Capri
Location: Boonville, MO
Poker Room: No

Isle of Capri
Location: Kansas City, MO
Poker Room: No

Lady Luck Casino
Location: Caruthersville, MO
Poker Room: No

Lumière Place Casino
Location: St. Louis, MO
Poker Room: Yes

Mark Twain Casino
Location: La Grange, MO
Poker Room: No

River City Casino

Location: St. Louis, MO
Poker Room: Yes

St. Jo Frontier Casino
Location: St. Joseph, MO
Poker Room: No

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