State Poker Laws

 The online poker laws from state to US state vary considerably, but they can be easily positioned into four distinctive categories; legal and regulated, not legal or regulated (but not punishable by law), illegal by default (and punishable by law), and explicitly illegal. Since this document will cover the poker laws across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, I’ll forgo any unnecessary verbiage and get right down to business. First, I’ll define the four categories.

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Legal and Regulated

These are the states that took the initiative to legalize and regulate online poker after the US Department of Justice made it permissible to do so after reversing its previous opinion of the Federal Wire Act in December of 2011. It is legal to play online poker in these states so long as the player is old enough, is physically located in the state and only accesses online poker rooms licensed by the respective state.

States that fall into this category will be defined by the term “Legal”, and are listed below for convenience. Click on any state to jump to its brief legal description.

Not Legal or Regulated (but not Punishable by Law)

There are many states that fall into this category. These are states where the laws of gambling are ambiguous enough that there is no punishment applicable to citizens for playing online poker. It doesn’t mean it’s legal, but it’s not exactly illegal either since one can’t be punished for it.

States that fall into this category will be defined by the term “Not Legal/Illegal”, and are listed below for convenience. Click on any state to jump to its brief legal description.

Illegal by Default (and Punishable by Law)

The term “illegal by default” means that the state’s gambling laws are too ambiguous to say that online poker is not illegal, even though it’s not specifically mentioned anywhere in the legislative text. Most of them declare that any gambling activity that is “not specifically authorized by law” is defined as “unlawful”. Therefore, any penalty imposed upon any form of traditional land-based gambling would trickle down to that online gambling activity, as well.

States that fall into this category will be defined by the term “Illegal by Default”, and are listed below for convenience. Click on any state to jump to its full legal description.

Explicitly Illegal and Punishable by Law

Some states have gone so far as to enact unequivocal laws that specifically prohibit playing real money Texas Holdem or any other type of poker game or gamble over the internet. Not only is it illegal to play, there are precise penalties imposed on anyone caught playing, generally much stiffer than the penalties imposed by other states.

States that fall into this category will be defined by the term “Explicitly Illegal”, and are listed below for convenience. Click on any state to jump to its brief legal description.

State by State Account of Current Online Poker Laws

The following is a concise, alphabetically ordered, state-by-state narrative of the current online poker laws across the US.

Alabama Illegal by Default
The laws of Alabama loosely define online poker as illegal by default and punishable by law (class C misdemeanor).
Alaska Illegal by Default
Alaska’s laws are very old, but poker falls into the illegal category, thus online poker, by default, is also illegal and punishable by law (class B misdemeanor).
Arizona Illegal by Default
Arizona is another state where the ambiguity of the laws could easily be construed as prohibiting online poker; committing gambling is punishable by law (class 1 misdemeanor).
Arkansas Explicitly Illegal
Arkansas law prohibits wagering on standard gambling and “the invention of new names or devices” that are “brought into practice, in any and in all kinds of gaming”. That would certainly encompass online poker, and is punishable by law (violation incurs fine of $50-$100).
California Not Legal/Illegal
Since California is home to numerous licensed card rooms, poker doesn’t fall under the “not specifically authorized by law” guidelines of most states. Therefore it’s not explicitly legal or illegal, and there is no penalty imposed for playing online poker in California.
Colorado Not Legal/Illegal
Colorado’s laws fall into a ‘grey area’. The state’s Division of Gaming website clearly states’, “Internet gambling is illegal under state and federal laws,” but there is no penalty for committing the crime. Only operators and professional gamblers (those who profit from an operation, not as a player) are punishable.
Connecticut Illegal by Default
Poker itself is defined as an illegal activity in the state of Connecticut if not authorized. Any online version would be considered illegal by default and punishable (class B misdemeanor).
Delaware Legal
The state of Delaware acted quickly to legalize online poker and casino games. The state licenses three such websites, all belonging to Delaware’s triad of land-based gambling establishments, Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway, all of which launched their online gambling services on October 31, 2013. Anyone of legal age (21+) and physically located within the state of Delaware can participate.
District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) Not Legal/Illegal
The District of Columbia defines gambling as any game of chance played for money or property, but only specifies penalties for those who set up, keep or promote such games. Therefore, not while it’s not specifically legal to play online poker, there is no penalty enforced for doing so.
Florida Explicitly Illegal
Florida’s enactment of HB 155 makes it illegal to gamble over any electronic device by accessing the internet and is punishable by law (2nd degree misdemeanor).
Georgia Illegal by Default
Georgia outlaws any unauthorized forms of gambling that depend on any degree of chance, thus online poker is technically punishable by law (misdemeanor).
Hawaii Illegal by Default
Gambling “online” is not part of Hawaii’s statutes, but any form of gambling, regardless of the degree of chance or skill, is illegal. Thus online poker is illegal and punishable (misdemeanor).
Idaho Illegal by Default
All forms of gambling not specifically authorized are considered illegal in Idaho. Online poker falls into that category thus is punishable (misdemeanor).
Illinois Explicitly Illegal
Any form of “internet gambling” outside of playing the state lottery online is explicitly illegal and punishable (first offense is a class A misdemeanor; subsequent offenses class 4 felony).
Indiana Not Legal/Illegal
Indiana is an interesting case in terms of online poker legalities. It’s listed under the ‘Not Legal/Illegal’ category because state law specifically states that gambling on an “interactive computer service” is illegal. However, there’s no penalty for being a player.
Iowa Illegal by Default
Any form of gambling not licensed in Iowa is considered illegal and punishable (variable; ranges from aggravated misdemeanor to class C felony).
Kansas Illegal by Default
Online gambling is not specifically mentioned, but “making a bet” on a game of chance (the degree is not defined) is illegal in Kansas and punishable (class B nonperson misdemeanor).
Kentucky Not Legal/Illegal
Kentucky criminalizes the act of gambling with any element of chance, and by default online poker would be included, but there is no penalty for being a player.
Louisiana Explicitly Illegal
Louisiana law clearly states (RS 14:90.3 Gambling by Computer, part D.) Whoever commits the crime of gambling by computer shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars, or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.”
Maine Illegal by Default
All gambling with any element of chance is illegal and punishable (class D crime).
Maryland Illegal by Default
Gambling on any “device” is considered illegal and punishable (misdemeanor).
Massachusetts Not Legal/Illegal
The laws may be construed to declare online poker illegal, but there is no penalty imposed unless you’re in a “public place” or “trespassing”.
Michigan Explicitly Illegal
Michigan state law defines playing poker on a computer as illegal and punishable (misdemeanor).
Minnesota Illegal by Default
Any gambling that is not explicitly legal is illegal and punishable (misdemeanor).
Mississippi Illegal by Default
Mississippi defines poker as gambling, and any unauthorized gambling as illegal and punishable (fine up to $500).
Missouri Illegal by Default
Gambling that is not authorized is automatically illegal and punishable (class C misdemeanor).
Montana Explicitly Illegal
Internet Gambling is specifically deemed illegal if not authorized by the state and punishable (profit below $750 misdemeanor, $750+ felony).
Nebraska Explicitly Illegal
While “online” poker or gambling is never mentioned, any unauthorized form is illegal, and a clause states that even if the gamble takes place outside of Nebraska’s jurisdiction, it’s still illegal and punishable (penalty variable).
Nevada Legal
The state of Nevada enacted legislation to legally regulate online poker only within days of the DOJs reversal of the Wire Act. It took over a year to author the necessary regulatory framework and approve operator/vendor/supplier licenses, but the state proudly launched the very first legal, regulated, real money online poker site in the US on April 30, 2013. That poker site, Ultimate Poker, now shares the Nevada online poker market with WSOP.com (launched Sept. 19, 2013) and Real Gaming (launched Feb. 19, 2014). Anyone of legal age (21+) and physically located within the state of Nevada can participate.
New Hampshire Illegal by Default
New Hampshire is another state where the laws criminalize any gambling activity that is not authorized by the state. Poker, nor online poker, is authorized, therefore it is illegal and punishable (misdemeanor).
New Jersey Legal
The state of New Jersey took it’s time about legalizing online poker and casino games when Governor Chris Christie demanded that the legislation be extremely thorough in sufficiently taxing the industry and requiring strict consumer protection laws. Having passed legislation in early 2013, the state launched a large iGaming market in November of that same year. The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement’s licensed online poker operators include Party Poker NJ, Borgata Poker, WSOP NJ, 888 Poker and Ultimate Poker. Anyone of legal age (21+) and physically located within the state of New Jersey can participate.
New Mexico Illegal by Default
Online poker is not explicitly illegal, but not authorized, therefore illegal and punishable (petty misdemeanor).
New York Not Legal/Illegal
Online poker is not legal in New York, but there is no punishment for doing it.
North Carolina Not Legal/Illegal
North Carolina is one of the hardest states to categorize. The laws are extremely specific, yet could be construed one way or the other. There is a penalty for illegal gambling (class 2 misdemeanor), but a good lawyer should be able to counter any charges due to the state’s application of the Dominant Factor Test (i.e. poker is a game of skill, not gambling).
North Dakota Illegal by Default
Unauthorized gambling and gambling “between persons” is illegal, but gambling is defined as betting on something “over which the person taking the risk has no control”. Thus one could probably argue their way out of a penalty (infraction for betting $25-$499, class A misdemeanor for $500+).
Ohio Not Legal/Illegal
Technically, online poker could be interpreted as illegal, but there is no penalty for gambling unless it’s done in a public place.
Oklahoma Illegal by Default
It’s not authorized, so it’s not legal (misdemeanor).
Oregon Explicitly Illegal
Oregon poker laws specifically prohibit ‘internet’ gambling, poker included, and it’s punishable by law (class A misdemeanor).
Pennsylvania Illegal by Default
Not authorized by law, therefore illegal and punishable (first degree misdemeanor).
Rhode Island Not Legal/Illegal
Rhode Island specifically states that playing “poker” by “computers” is an illegal “gambling game”. However, the penalty only falls upon the proprietor, not the player.
South Carolina Not Legal/Illegal
As part of the nation’s ‘Bible Belt’, the laws are way more verbose in South Carolina, yet just as confusing as any other. Short and sweet version: Online poker is not illegal so long as you play in your own home, but not in your kitchen and never on the Sabbath (Sunday). However, if they do decide you’ve broken the law (since it’s not authorized), you’ll have to forfeit your winnings.
South Dakota Explicitly Illegal
South Dakota explicitly criminalizes the act of internet gambling (class 2 misdemeanor).
Tennessee Illegal by Default
Obscurity is the name of the game in Tennessee. The laws are so vague they could encompass any form of gambling, by any means, regardless of skill (class C or B misdemeanor).
Texas Illegal by Default
Online poker is not authorized in Texas, therefore is illegal and punishable (class C misdemeanor).
Utah Explicitly Illegal
Utah expressly outlawed online poker/gambling in 2012 (class B misdemeanor)
Vermont Illegal by Default
Despite lack of specific verbiage for “online/internet” poker, any “person who wins or loses money” by betting can be fined ($10-$200).
Virginia Explicitly Illegal
Although online poker isn’t specifically mentioned, absolutely every form of wagering is illegal in Virginia and punishable (class 3 misdemeanor).
Washington State Explicitly Illegal
In 2006, Washington State made it expressly illegal to wager over the internet, imposing a strict penalty for violation (class C felony).
West Virginia Illegal by Default
The poker laws in West Virginia are just hazy enough that it’s hard to define which penalty online poker would fall under, but it is illegal by default.
Wisconsin Illegal by Default
Because online poker is not authorized, it’s illegal by default (class B misdemeanor).
Wyoming Illegal by Default
Online poker is not explicitly legal in Wyoming, and if it’s not legal, it’s illegal (misdemeanor).