Is Online Poker Legal or Illegal in Alabama?
There is nothing in Alabama law that specifically cites online poker as legal or illegal. Gambling is limited to bingo and race betting.
Though the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1986 authorized Native Americans to run gambling establishments for revenue on their reservations, every tribe must negotiate compacts with the state. As for Alabama, it was not easy, and only one of the nine tribes was able to complete a deal. The compact is limited to bingo and slot machines, as no table games are allowed, and the singular tribe – the Poarch Band of Creek Indians – operates three casinos.
Bingo is allowed, but electronic bingo has been the subject of some dispute. Several cities have voted to allow horse and dog racing and betting, and pari-mutuel betting is permitted as well. There is also a state lottery.
Since table games are not allowed in the state, live poker is not permitted at gambling establishments, either. Online poker is not addressed specifically.
Which Alabama Laws Are Pertinent to Online Poker?
The Code of Alabama mentions gambling in the “Criminal Code” section under “Offenses Against Public Health & Morals.” Those titles alone give a good indication of how the state feels about gambling overall.
Under Title 13, Article 2, Division 1 deals expressly with gambling and starts with simple gambling. “A person commits the crime of simple gambling if he knowingly advances or profits from unlawful gambling activity as a player.” It does note that a defense for a player could be that he or she was “engaged in a social game in a private place.” The problem is that social games are not defined.
Gambling itself is defined as follows:
“A person engages in gambling if he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. Gambling does not include bona fide business transactions valid under the law of contracts…”
Notice that games of skill are not mentioned.
As for games of chance, the law defines:
“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.”
This remains open to interpretation, but poker would likely to be able to escape the chance factor in order to be deemed a game of skill.
Since players are mentioned in the statutes, it’s important to look at the law’s definition of a player:
“A person who engages in any form of gambling solely as a contestant or bettor, without receiving or becoming entitled to receive any profit therefrom other than personal gambling winnings, and without otherwise rendering any material assistance to the establishment, conduct or operation of the particular gambling activity.”
Crimes listed in the statute regarding promoting gambling, keeping gambling records, and possessing gambling devices primarily apply to operators and game runners, not players.
Unlawful actions include:
- Advancing or profiting from unlawful gambling activity as a player.
- Possessing gambling records with knowledge of contents.
- Possessing a gambling device via manufacturing, sale, transportation, or ownership transactions.
- Maintaining implements or appliances with any room or place used for gaming.
Poker is not mentioned, nor are games of skill. Further, nothing about internet games is included in any of the statutes, which opens legal doors for players and operators. However, as for players, they may be in a bit more danger than in other states because Alabama does hold contestants and bettors responsible, though only in profiting for anything other than personal gambling winnings.
As with many states, there seem to be numerous gray areas that could be exploited by the online gaming industry or used as a basis for prosecuting those gambling operators. The state has not gotten involved in any online poker or gambling matters yet, however, and the task of searching for offshore poker operators to prosecute may be a daunting one.
In summary, poker players who compete online have little about which to worry at this point in time. Should legislators decide to change laws to specify the illegality of online gambling and poker in Alabama, there may be a case for concern, but that seems unlikely.
Disclaimer: This is not written by an attorney and is not or should not be construed as legal advice. Please consult an attorney for help interpreting these laws as they pertain to any given situation.
Latest Developments Regarding Online Poker in Alabama
There have been no developments in Alabama online poker, as legislators seem to have no desire to address the issue in any way. If any other state in the Southern US takes up the issue, Alabama may be open to considering it, but the likelihood is slim due to the hesitancy of legislators to even allow table games in tribal casinos.
In the past several years, however, there have been multiple disagreements – many handled in the courts – regarding gambling machines. Racinos located off tribal lands have been fighting for the right to offer video gambling machines (slot machines). Most recently, the lawsuits have taken a turn to focus on slot machines that operate as bingo, but civil lawsuits accuse gambling establishments of using the bingo guise to simply operate more illegal slot machines.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Does Alabama monitor online poker activity?
Answer: It is very unlikely. Alabama officials do monitor tribal casinos and racetracks around the state to ensure the remain compliant with current laws, but online activity is not likely to be on their radar at all.
Question: Will Alabama ever offer live poker?
Answer: It seems unlikely in the near future. Tribal casinos would like to offer table games like poker, but they don’t want to risk losing the right to offer slot machines, which deliver more profits. Alabama legislators do not like the idea of increasing gambling offerings whatsoever.
Question: Do online poker operators worry about offering poker to Alabama players?
Answer: If there were any true legal concerns, the online poker companies would change their marketing strategy and exclude states that had worrisome laws. No sites have exited the Alabama poker market, however, which means they see few risks involved in giving poker players their choice of sites on which to compete. And if any operator decided that online poker in Alabama was too risky, their players would be the first to know about the change.
- Abbreviation: AL
- Nickname: The Cotton State
- Capital: Montgomery
- Largest city: Birmingham
- Population: 4,863,300 (24th of 50 states)
- Area: 52,419 square miles
- Famous poker players: Shannon Shorr, Hoyt Corkins