US Poker & Gambling Laws by State
How a Decade of US Laws Changed Online Poker
Before 2011, the United States comprised the largest online poker market in the world. Hundreds of poker sites catered to the millions of American players.
The US government began to crack down on the unfettered internet poker market in 2006 with the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which drove many sites – including PartyPoker – away from players based in the 50 states. And the indictments of Black Friday – April 15, 2011 – involving executives at PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and UltimateBet were the final straws in that crumbling haystack. Two of those four sites disappeared altogether, Full Tilt was discovered to be corrupt and bankrupt, and PokerStars was ousted from the US market while also paying a hefty price in financial settlements and business.
Approximately seven months after Black Friday, the US Department of Justice answered a request to clarify the 1961 Wire Act, and its ruling changed American gaming as it pertained to the internet. The new interpretation of the longstanding law held that it did not apply to online lotteries and other types of gaming, which meant that states suddenly had the authority to legalize online poker.
Three states addressed the issue within two years of the ruling, and another state legalized online poker more recently:
- Nevada legalized online poker.
- Delaware legalized online poker and casino games.
- New Jersey legalized online poker and casino games.
- Pennsylvania legalized online poker and casino games.
Meanwhile, other states made sure their laws specifically outlawed online gambling. States like Hawaii and Utah long before decided against legalizing any type of gambling, but other states chose to add wording to their statutes that mentioned gaming on the internet.
50 States, 50 Sets of Laws
Most of the 50 states make no mention of online poker or internet casino games whatsoever in their statutes. This leaves the laws up to legal and judicial interpretation. Few states have found any clarification in the courts due to state officials hesitant to prosecute online gambling-related crimes. The site operators are located offshore, state laws are often unclear, and cases could be costly.
All of it can be confusing for players.
This is the reason this site’s management decided to provide a resource for players. While none of the state pages are intended to serve as legal advice, they do offer summaries of the laws in which poker and online gambling are mentioned, as well as links to state resources.
No law prohibits online poker. There is not much legal gambling at all in Alaska, though, and the law’s definition of games of chance includes skill. The only times the voters of the state have been asked to consider the lottery or the establishment of a gaming commission, those measures were rejected.
No law specifically prohibits online poker. Social poker games and poker rooms in tribal casinos are allowed, and there is a detailed clause in the statutes pertaining to games of skill. However, there have been no proposals to legalize any type of online gaming, including poker.
No law prohibits online poker. There is a clause defining games of chance, but they include games in which skill is also a factor. Alabama still has no legal lottery but has been considering a legal lottery and DFS, but it has not considered online poker as of 2018.
No law prohibits online poker. There is little gambling in Arkansas, but poker rooms do exist in some racinos. The law deems anyone who bets money on a game of skill as guilty of a violation of that law, but there is no proper definition of skill games. Arkansas did recently legalize DFS.
The Bureau of Gambling Control bans gambling entities from entering relationships with illegal internet gambling websites, but playing online poker is not mentioned in the statutes. California offers poker in numerous card rooms and tribal casinos, and bills to legalize online poker have been introduced regularly over the past 10 years. They have had no success as of 2018, however.
The Colorado Attorney General declared online gambling sites illegal in 2013 and noted the only way to legalize it would be via a constitutional amendment. Meanwhile, there are poker rooms in the state-run casinos, but there have been no online poker bills introduced since a failed attempt in 2012.
The state’s Department of Consumer Protection specifies that online gambling is not legal. The state does not currently recognize poker as a game of skill, but tribes have been supportive of online poker, especially in light of a 2018 bill to legalize internet gaming. Other gambling expansion was also considered in early 2018.
Online poker is legal in Delaware per the 2012 Delaware Gaming Competitiveness Act. The three state racinos offer online poker and casino games, which are partnered with sites in Nevada in 2015 and then included New Jersey in 2018 for internet poker shared liquidity. The online games are regulated by the Delaware Lottery.
No law prohibits online poker. Racinos and tribal casinos offer live poker rooms, and games of skill are exempted from general gambling prohibitions, though poker is not specified as a skill game. In fact, card games are specifically included in games of chance. Online poker was considered by lawmakers in 2012, 2013, and 2014, but it never made it to a vote.
No law prohibits online poker. There is little legal gambling in Georgia at all, and games of skill are not deemed different from games of chance in the statutes. The few attempts to legalize horse racing or casinos have been easily defeated.
No law specifically prohibits online poker, but there is no legalized gambling in Hawaii whatsoever, not even a lottery. There have been several attempts as late as 2017 to legalize casinos and online poker, but the bills never find much – if any – support in the legislature.
No law prohibits online poker. A US District Court case in 2014 sided with the state in forbidding poker tournaments in tribal poker rooms, ruling that any level of chance in a game prevents it from being a skill game. An appeals court agreed with that ruling. Any efforts to legalize online poker in the past decade have failed before bills were even drafted.
No law specifically prohibits online poker. Live poker is legal in Illinois racinos and casinos, and the state has considered bills since 2013 to legalize online poker. A bill advanced the furthest in the state legislature in 2017 and remained under consideration in 2018.
The Indiana Code and the Gambling Control Division make clear that online gambling of any kind is illegal in Indiana. The statutes also clarify that poker is a game of chance, not skill. The legislature has not considered proposals to legalize online poker or casino games.
No law prohibits online poker. Live poker is alive and well in riverboat casinos, but poker is not considered a game of skill by law. There were bills in 2012 and 2013 to legalize poker online, but tribal leaders thwarted those efforts.
No law prohibits online poker. There are card rooms in tribal casinos throughout the state, but there have been no efforts to legalize online poker.
No law prohibits online poker. Horse racing is a mainstay in Kentucky, though, and when online poker and gaming sites were interpreted as a threat to that livelihood, the governor seized the domains of more than 100 gambling websites, including poker domains. Some sites fought the move in court, but PokerStars ended up on the losing end and was ordered to pay $870 million in damages.
No law prohibits online poker. Racinos and riverboat casinos offer live poker. There is a statute that vaguely addresses games used while accessing the internet, but it is ambiguously worded. There was an attempt to put online poker on the 2018 voters’ ballot, but it failed to garner enough support in early 2018.
No law specifically prohibits online poker. The law referencing games of chance does exempt poker, but that has done little to garner support for legalizing it. There have been no online poker bills considered by the legislature.
No law prohibits online poker. Live poker thrives in the state’s growing land-based casino industry, and though there has been talk of legalizing online poker and casino games, there have been no bills considered to that effect.
No law prohibits online poker. Casinos with poker rooms are emerging around the state, and online poker has been proposed annually for many years. The Senate Minority Leader and Massachusetts Gaming Commission head want online poker and continue to support bills that the legislature may consider in 2018.
No law prohibits online poker. Social gaming online and poker in land-based casino poker rooms are legal in Michigan, and legislators have been working hard to legalize online poker and casino games. Efforts increased substantially in 2017 and 2018, with reports of passage being very close.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety declares online gaming illegal. While racinos can offer live poker and social games are legal, it is a crime to participate in online poker. There have been no efforts to change the law.
The Mississippi Gaming Commission notes that online gambling is illegal under state law for players located in Mississippi. There have been efforts to legalize online poker in the state since 2012 but without enough support from a majority of the legislature.
No law prohibits online poker. Live poker rooms are open in riverboat casinos, but there have been no attempts to legalize online poker or casino games. Missouri is famous for prosecuting an online sports betting company in 2006 under the UIGEA.
Montana law states that internet gambling is illegal. The Montana Supreme Court also ruled that gambling activities must be authorized to be legal, rending online poker and other games illegal. There have been no efforts to change this.
No law prohibits online poker. However, Nebraska doesn’t even allow table games like poker in the tribal gaming facilities, and there is no mention of skill games in the statutes. Unsurprisingly, there have been no attempts to legalize online gambling.
Nevada was the first state to legalize online poker. Its first sites launched in 2013 and have since joined forces with poker sites in Delaware and New Jersey to increase poker shared liquidity. The Nevada Gaming Commission regulates players and sites in Nevada.
No law prohibits online poker. Private, social poker games are legal in the state, but there have been efforts to legalize casinos with card rooms and online poker. The most serious effort came in 2017 but will likely happen again in the coming years.
Online poker and casino games are legal in New Jersey, as of 2013 legislation. Online operators partner with land-based casinos, and poker recently entered a shared liquidity agreement with Delaware and Nevada to share player pools. New Jersey lawmakers have even considered expanding to host or partner internationally to further expand the already-lucrative industry.
State law renders all online gaming, including poker, illegal. The New Mexico Gaming Control Board further states that it doesn’t endorse, sanction, or approve of online gaming. Online poker remains prohibited with no attempts to legalize it in the past decade.