Ohio Online Poker Laws Defined

Ohio may be of below average stature, ranked the 34th largest state in the US, but it packs in a high volume of residents with the 7th highest population, home to 11,570,808 (est. 2013). Ohio has one of the best business oriented economies in the country, but its unemployment rate was over 10% in 2010; a key factor for voters in the Buckeye State when they decided to allow four grand casinos to be built the in major cities of Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo. The state’s gambling revenue has soared since then, but online poker regulation has yet to become one of those valuable resources.

There are countless internet gamers in Ohio who continue to enjoy playing poker for real money from the comfort of their home computers or mobile devices, but the question many would like an answer to is whether it’s illegal to do so. Just because online poker is not legally authorized in a state doesn’t necessarily make it illegal by default. In many US jurisdictions, it falls into a grey area of the law. Our aim today is to find out which category online poker might fall into in Ohio. To do this, we’ll examine the land-based casino industry and the laws surrounding gambling in the state.

Land-based Gambling in Ohio

Ohio wasn’t considered a big gambling state for years, even in recent times. Horse racing, lottery and bingo games were present, but that was the extent of wagering in the Buckeye State. It wasn’t until its neighbor, Pennsylvania, began authorizing racinos and casinos – an event that lead to the Keystone State wrestling the #2 spot of highest gambling revenue in the US from New Jersey (the first being Nevada, of course) – that the state changed its tune. Ohio passed a bill to build 4 new casinos in 2009 and has since seen all 7 of its raceways converted to racinos, along with the addition of four full-scale casino operations, all of which opened their doors between 2012 and 2014. That brings the total number to 11 casino destinations throughout Ohio. The debate of online poker regulation has already risen, and we can clearly conclude that Ohio has no aversion to pouring gambling-related tax dollars into the state funds, but as of yet, no action has been taken.

Deciphering the Laws of Ohio as they relate to Online Poker

Next, we’ll take a look at some of the gambling related laws in Ohio that could relate to online poker. The following texts have been extracted from the Ohio Revised Codes, Title 29, Chapter 2915: Gambling.

Section Text Meaning (in re online poker)
2915.01 Gambling Definitions (B) “Bet” means the hazarding of anything of value upon the result of an event, undertaking, or contingency, but does not include a bona fide business risk. With no mention of chance or skill factors, wagering on poker is defined as making a bet.
(D) “Game of chance” means poker, craps, roulette, or other game in which a player gives anything of value in the hope of gain, the outcome of which is determined largely by chance, but does not include bingo. Poker is classified as a game of chance in Ohio.
(E) “Game of chance conducted for profit” means any game of chance designed to produce income for the person who conducts or operates the game of chance, but does not include bingo. If a rake is taken at cash games, or a fee collected to enter tournaments, online poker is classified as a game of chance conducted for profit.
(F) “Gambling device” means any of the following:
(1) A book, totalizer, or other equipment for recording bets;
(2) A ticket, token, or other device representing a chance, share, or interest in a scheme of chance or evidencing a bet;
(3) A deck of cards, dice, gaming table, roulette wheel, slot machine, or other apparatus designed for use in connection with a game of chance;
(4) Any equipment, device, apparatus, or paraphernalia specially designed for gambling purposes;
(5) Bingo supplies sold or otherwise provided, or used, in violation of this chapter.
A computer or mobile device is not ‘designed’ for or ‘specially designed’ for gambling purposes, thus should not fall under this definition if used to play online poker for real money. However, a judge may see it differently.
(G) “Gambling offense” means any of the following:
(1) A violation of section 2915.02…
See 2915.02 below…
2915.02 Gambling. (A) No person shall do any of the following:
(2) Establish, promote, or operate or knowingly engage in conduct that facilitates any game of chance conducted for profit or any scheme of chance;
(4) Engage in betting or in playing any scheme or game of chance as a substantial source of income or livelihood;
It is illegal to be involved in any way in a game of chance conducted for profit. Making a substantial portion of your income from gambling is also illegal.
(B) …For purposes of division (A)(2) of this section, a person facilitates a game of chance conducted for profit or a scheme of chance if the person in any way knowingly aids in the conduct or operation of any such game or scheme, including, without limitation, playing any such game or scheme. Being a player in a game of chance conducted for profit (which, based on the definitions above, would include online poker) is illegal.
(C) This section does not prohibit conduct in connection with gambling expressly permitted by law. Participating in any gambling activity that is not expressly authorized by law is illegal in Ohio.
(K) Whoever violates this section is guilty of gambling, a misdemeanor of the first degree. If the offender previously has been convicted of any gambling offense, gambling is a felony of the fifth degree… A first-time gambling offense is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and/or up to $1,000 fine. A subsequent gambling offense increases the penalty to 6-12 months in jail and up to $2,500 fine.

Is Online Poker Illegal in Ohio?

Yes. There may be no specific mention of internet or online poker in the legislative text, but there are enough definitions and prohibited activities listed to come to the conclusion that online poker is illegal in Ohio. Poker is a game of chance, and any game of chance that is not authorized by the state, or that is conducted for profit (i.e. the operator of the online poker room is making a profit), is unlawful to participate in. There is a separate clause that states a player cannot use gambling as a substantial source of income or livelihood, but the punishment for doing so does not seem to differ from the penalty for simply playing real money online poker.

Is Ohio working to legalize Online Poker?

Having just begun establishing a heavily expanded casino industry in the state, Ohio was quick to look at the possibility of legalizing online poker and casino games when the US government gave states the right to do so in late 2011. The next month, official announced that they were already exploring the idea, but in the end, they decided it was best to focus on their land-based gambling expansion while keeping an eye on the iGaming activities in other jurisdictions.

Ohio is one state where online poker regulation is projected to become a reality in the short term. Now that all of the state’s new casinos are open for business, shepherding them into the virtual realm is the next obvious step. You can expect to see an Ohio online poker bill introduced sometime in 2015; 2016 at the latest. Getting that bill onto the governor’s desk will come with some opposition, though. State Rep. Jim Jordan’s name appears on the list of cosponsors for the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, a federal bill introduced to enforce a blanket ban of online poker and casino gambling across the US.

Online Poker Players from Ohio

Ohio is home to a vast number of professional online poker grinders. Some of the bigger names – several of which have racked up 7-figures in cashes – include Joe “ender555” / “sampson724” Ebanks, Tommy “thecooler992” Tomasello, Joel “SpadeSkillz” Dickerson, B.J. “FatsoFat6969” Craig, Chaz “Chaz78” Bloom, Nate “njw11” Wachtel, Kris “KGB11” Bennett and Brennan “brennan4” Hall.

Land-Based Card Rooms in Ohio

Ohio’s casino industry is only two years in the making, but has boomed quickly in that short amount of time. There are 7 racinos and four 4 full-scale casinos in Ohio, all opened between May 14, 2012 (Horseshoe Casino Cleveland) and September 17, 2014 (Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Racecourse). Each is listed alphabetically below, along with its location and the availability of a poker room.

Belterra Park Gaming & Entertainment Center
Location: Anderson Township, OH
Poker Room: No

Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park
Location: Northfield, OH
Poker Room: No

Hollywood Casino Columbus
Location: Columbus, OH
Poker Room: Yes

Hollywood Casino Toledo
Location: Toledo, OH
Poker Room: Yes

Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway
Location: Dayton, OH
Poker Room: No

Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course
Location: Austintown, OH
Poker Room: Yes

Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Poker Room: Yes

Horseshoe Casino Cleveland
Location: Cleveland, OH
Poker Room: Yes

Miami Valley Gaming
Location: Turtlecreek Township, OH
Poker Room: No

Scioto Downs Racino
Location: Columbus, OH
Poker Room: No

Thistledown Racino
Location: North Randall, OH
Poker Room: Yes

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