Is Playing Online Poker in Alabama Legal?

Alabama is the 30th largest state in the US and the 23rd most populated (4,833,722 est. 2013). It is recognized for its southern hospitality, beautiful landscapes, extensive shorelines and historical attractions. There are a multitude of economic avenues generating revenue for the Yellowhammer State, ranging from industrial enterprise and healthcare, to aviation and agriculture, but gambling isn’t among them.

When it comes to legal issues, the climate of online poker has changed dramatically in the United States over the last few years. But the same can’t be said for Alabama. And while the region isn’t exactly known for advocating any form of gambling, it’s a well-known fact that some residents of the state are still logging onto online poker sites and playing for real money. The question we aim to answer today is whether the activity is wholly legal, explicitly illegal, or somewhere in between.


Land-based Gambling in Alabama

Legal issues surrounding online poker are often foreshadowed by the evolution of land-based gambling in a given state. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to report on Alabama in that regard. Although there are 3 Native American casinos in Alabama, along with a sprinkling of bingo halls throughout the state, commercial casinos and card rooms were outlawed long ago. We’re talking about one of a very few states that hasn’t even introduced its own lottery system. Residents can purchase tickets for the nationwide Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries, but that’s about it.

Alabama is located in a region of the United States commonly referred to as the Bible Belt. This expanse of southeastern states is known for its aversion to gambling and all other activities that religious minded individuals generally see as an aberrant threat to society. Throw in the fact that the government is primarily run by republican conservatives and pushing for something as simple as a state-run lottery has been denied time and again.


Deciphering the Laws of Alabama as they relate to Online Poker

Unraveling the archaic context of Alabama State Law isn’t the easiest thing to do. The majority of it was written many generations ago, and we’ve already established that the Yellowhammer State is recognized for its unwillingness to change. As such, I’ve created a layout of all the important legal documentation surrounding the laws of gambling, followed by a brief explanation of its meaning in regards to online poker. In the meantime, feel free to examine the full text of the Code of Alabama, Article 2, Gambling Offenses.

Section Text Meaning (in re online poker)
13A-12-20 Definitions (3) CONTEST OF CHANCE. 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. Any form of gambling, including skill-based games like poker, is defined as a Contest of Chance.
(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… Any poker game in which there is something of value to be lost or gained is defined as Gambling.
(5) GAMBLING DEVICE. Any device, machine, paraphernalia or equipment that is normally 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 desktop computer, laptop or mobile device could potentially be defined as a Gambling Device if it is used to play online poker.
(8) PLAYER. A person who engages in any form of gambling solely as a contestant or bettor, without receiving… any profit… other than personal gambling winnings… Anyone who plays online poker for real money is defined as a Player.
(12) UNLAWFUL. Not specifically authorized by law. Anything that isn’t explicitly legal by the Code of Alabama is illegal by default.
13A-12-21 Simple Gambling (a) A person commits the crime of simple gambling if he knowingly advances or profits from unlawful gambling activity as a player. Online poker is illegal if you know you’re winning/losing real money.
(b) It is a defense to a prosecution under this section that a person charged with being a player was engaged in a social game in a private place. Social poker games held in a private place are legal (so long as no one profits in any way outside of personal gambling winnings, which eliminates online poker where a rake is taken).
(c) Simple gambling is a Class C misdemeanor. Gambling is penalized with up to 3 months in jail and/or up to $500 fine.


Is Online Poker Illegal in Alabama?

Yes. Although the internet is never specifically mentioned in the Code of Alabama’s gambling laws, the verbiage is obtuse enough to include all forms of gambling, including the online variety, due to the defined restrictions on gambling and gambling devices. And because online poker isn’t explicitly legal, it falls under the category of ‘Unlawful’ by default.


Is Alabama working to Legalize Online Poker?

No. There have been no attempts to pass legislation that would legalize and regulate online poker in Alabama. In fact, several measures have been introduced to do just the opposite; explicitly prohibit online poker. However, all such propositions have been denied up to this point.

The only way we could hope for Alabama to institute an online poker market would be for the federal government to pass nation-wide regulations for iGaming. Then again, if that were to happen, it would be more likely that Alabama would opt out altogether, waiving its right to initiate any form of online gambling.


Online Poker Players in Alabama

Alabama isn’t exactly teeming with born-and-raised online poker pros, but one name stands out greatly among the populace. Shannon Shorr hails from Birmingham and has racked up more than $1.2m in online poker tournament winnings, on top of $5.4 million in live tournament cashes. Ideally, none would be more pleased to see online poker legally regulated in Alabama than native poker pro Shannon Shorr.


Land-Based Card Rooms in Alabama

For now, Alabamians who wish to keep their poker play on a legal level won’t find any public opportunities within the state. Social games held in private locations are the only legal option, and that’s only if the players are the sole profiteers via gambling winnings. There are three land-based casinos in Alabama, each run by Native American tribes, hence their legality in a state where the laws clearly prohibit casino-style poker play on a commercial level or via the internet, but none of them are equipped with poker tables at this time.

Wind Creek Casino
Location: Atmore, AL
Poker Room: No

Creek Casino Wetumpka
Location: Wetumpka, AL
Poker Room: No

Creek Casino Montgomery
Location: Montgomery, AL
Poker Room: No

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