North Carolina Online Poker Laws Explained

North Carolina ranks as the 28th largest state and is home to a considerable population of 9,848,060 (est. 2013), the 10th highest in the US. Technology has become a significant factor in the Old North State’s economy since the turn of the century, and its east coast location makes it a prime destination for tourists. Being a member of the Bible Belt region, however, gambling has long been a prohibitive activity in the state. As such, the probability of regulating online poker is a distant one. But when an activity is not legal, that alone doesn’t make it illegal. To determine the legality of online poker in North Carolina, we must examine the verbiage of the state’s gambling laws.

Land-based Gambling in North Carolina

There aren’t many ways to place a lawful wager in the area. The history of gambling in North Carolina dates all the way back to 1749, when gambling was first restricted to minimal daily losses. Those limitations continued to decrease over the next two decades, but were repealed in 1784 when the local government decided to make money off gambling by heavily taxing the activity and the corresponding gaming equipment. In 1791, all table gaming was outlawed (slots weren’t invented yet, but were also outlawed upon introduction). The only legal form of wagering left were occasional state lotteries, used to fund various government projects.

Jump way ahead to the mid-1900s, when bingo was legalized at fairgrounds or for charitable organizations on a county-by-county basis, finally blanketing the state in 1976 for non-profit gaming only. The 1940s-50s also saw a brief legalization of horse and greyhound racing, but the NC Supreme Court eventually called it an unconstitutional monopoly. Tribal gaming began in 1982 with the founding of a high-stakes bingo parlor, but progressed to casino style gaming after the IGRA was enacted in the late 80s. The first (and currently only) casino in the Tar Heel State was opened in Cherokee, NC in November of 1997 by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. It was restricted to video gaming machines for years, but in 2012 was finally permitted to offer table games, including live poker. The current state lottery wasn’t enacted until 2006.

Deciphering the Laws of North Carolina as they relate to Online Poker

It’s obvious that North Carolina has a distinct aversion to gambling and has struggled to truncate the expansion of wagering activities over the centuries, except where it benefits the tax coffers, of course. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Article 37 of the North Carolina General Statutes as the text may relate to online poker.

Section Text Meaning (in re online poker)
§ 14-292 Gambling Except as provided in Chapter 18C of the General Statutes or in Part 2 of this Article, any person or organization that operates any game of chance or any person who plays at or bets on any game of chance at which any money, property or other thing of value is bet, whether the same be in stake or not, shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor… Unless authorized by the state, gambling at any game of chance is illegal and punishable in various ways. A judge could sentence the person to anything from community service or probation to as many as 60 days in jail, and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
§ 14-306 Slot machine or device defined (a) Any machine, apparatus or device is a slot machine or device…that is adapted…for use in such a way that, as a result of the payment of any piece of money or coin or token or any credit card, debit card, prepaid card, or any other method that requires payment to activate play, whether directly into the slot machine or device or resulting in remote activation, such machine or device is caused to operate or may be operated in such manner that the user may receive or become entitled to receive any piece of money, credit, allowance or thing of value…
(d) …It is also a criminal offense, punishable under G.S. 14-309, for the person making the unlawful payout to the player of the machine to violate this section, in addition to any other person whose conduct may be unlawful.
Any machine that is not authorized by the state that can be used to gamble in any way shape or form, directly or remotely, is illegal. To gamble on such a machine (which could feasibly include a computer or mobile device used to gamble online) is unlawful, defined above as a class 2 misdemeanor.
The party responsible for paying out winnings (i.e. an online gambling operation) is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor on the first offense, upgraded to a felony for subsequent offenses.
§ 14-306.1A  Types of machines and devices prohibited by law; penalties (a) Ban on Machines. – It shall be unlawful for any person to operate…or keep in that person’s possession for the purpose of operation any video gaming machine as defined in subsection (b) of this section, except for the exemption for a federally recognized Indian tribe…
(b) Definitions. – As used in this section, a video gaming machine means a slot machine as defined in G.S. 14-306(a) and other forms of electrical, mechanical, or computer games such as, by way of illustration and not exclusion:
(1) A video poker game or any other kind of video playing card game.
(2) A video bingo game.
(3) A video craps game.
(4) A video keno game.
(5) A video lotto game.
(6) Eight liner.
(7) Pot-of-gold.
(8) A video game based on or involving the random or chance matching of different pictures, words, numbers, or symbols not dependent on the skill or dexterity of the player.
(9) Any other video game not dependent on skill or dexterity…
This is a very important section as it describes illegal gambling devices. Notice that all of the games listed are games of chance. Definitions (8) and (9) specifically exclude games that are dependent upon skill.

Is Online Poker Illegal in North Carolina?

Probably. The definition of gambling in North Carolina specifically references the presence of chance, but does not mention whether or not skill may play a factor. A computer or mobile device used to gamble online could be inferred as a gambling device. A traditional game of poker is not on the list of unlawful gambling devices (if not authorized by the state), but the list is only for examples and is not exclusive.

The legality of online poker has everything to do with whether Texas Holdem is considered a game of chance or a game of skill, and only a judge can decide that. For that reason, it must be concluded that online poker is probably illegal in North Carolina. However, there are no known cases of an individual being arrested or charged with unlawful gambling for playing real money online poker from their own home. Until that happens, or until the gambling laws are clarified to define internet poker, the question is a moot one.

Is North Carolina working to legalize Online Poker?

No. As mentioned above, North Carolina is part of the Bible Belt, a region defined by its public aversion to indecorous activities like drinking alcohol and gambling. While some strides have been made towards the legalization of limited wagering options, the Tar Heel State is very low on the list of US jurisdictions likely to regulate any forms of internet gambling in the foreseeable future.

Working against the regulation of online poker in North Carolina is Republican State Representative George Holding, whose signature appeared on the Sheldon Adelson-backed Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) introduced in March of 2014. If passed, the federal bill would create a blanket ban on internet poker and casino gambling across the country.

Online Poker Players from North Carolina

It’s not hard to find online poker players in North Carolina. Some of the more serious grinders include Leonard “L Rocketz” Smith, Derek “killingbird” Tenbusch, John “DrewPeacoq8” Gonzalez, Cory “MJ23STYLEz” Waaland and David “dapblower” Perez, just to name a few.

Land-Based Card Rooms in North Carolina

There is presently just one land-based card room offering live poker games in North Carolina. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) teamed up with Caesars Entertainment to open Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in 1997. They partnered up again in 2013 to build Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino, about an hour away in Murphy, NC. The new casino is slated for a soft opening in late December of 2014, followed by a full scale launch sometime in 2015. The availability of a poker room in the new North Carolina casino is yet to be announced, but with Caesars, owner of the WSOP brand, at the helm, it’s a likely scenario.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino
Location: Cherokee, NC
Poker Room: Yes

Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino (Soft open December 2014)
Location: Murphy, NC
Poker Room: TBA

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