Playing Poker Legally in Iowa
Iowa laws do not specifically state that online poker is legal or illegal. Iowa decided to legalize the lottery and pari-mutuel betting around the same time in the early 1980s. Betting on horse races passed in 1983, while the state lottery was created in 1985. Four years later, voters decided to allow riverboat gaming as well, and Iowa became the first state to offer it. Dog racing, social gambling, and bingo have also been legalized as well through the years.
Race tracks were given more opportunities to generate revenue in 1994 when they were allowed to install slot machines. Table games were then added nearly a decade later, in 2005. They are not considered casinos, but they are racinos and function much as some casinos in other states do.
Meanwhile, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that Congress passed in 1988 gave Native American tribes the opportunity to forge compacts with their state governments in order to establish casinos on their reservations. Three tribes did just that and opened casinos across Iowa. There are now three in operation, with the Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, and Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and Iowa each operating one establishment.
The Iowa Lottery toyed with the idea of electronic TouchPlay machines for lottery purchases, and the machines were distributed for public use in 2004. However, glitches and complaints forced the state to ban the machines in 2006.
Latest Developments Regarding Online Poker in Iowa
Not long after the 2011 Department of Justice decision regarding the Wire Act, many states took their newfound authority to legalize and regulate many internet games seriously. Iowa was one that did consider some online poker and gambling bills, but those efforts never went very far and quit after only a few years.
The first was in 2012, when the Iowa State Senate approved a bill to allow its casinos to partner with online poker sites under the control of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. But by the time the bill was introduced to the House, it was too late in the session for action, and the bill eventually died when no action was taken later in the year, either.
A very similar bill was put forward again in the Senate in 2013, and it did pass the first subcommittee’s preliminary glance but did not clear with a full vote. There was enough opposition, specifically from some of the state’s Native American tribes, that it could not move forward.
There was little follow-up action in 2014, and the lack of desire to move forward for online poker was confirmed by the then-CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association, Wes Ehrecke. He said interested parties in Iowa would be simply following states like New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada to monitor their actions and progress with online gambling as a whole. While there was an indication that they would broach the subject again in 2015, there was not a bill that year or anytime since.
Most analysts suspect that Iowa will address online poker within the next few years due to its high concentration of land-based casinos and racetracks in the state that would like to participate in some form of online gambling, but this remains to be seen.
Iowa Laws Pertinent to Online Poker
Gambling is discussed in most detail in Title XVI of the Iowa Code under the “crime control and criminal acts” section. Chapter 725 is vice, and gaming and betting is listed between prostitution and bullfights.
The chapter details gaming and betting, but it is in the “keeping gambling houses” section that it defines the gambling part as conducting “bookmaking or to play at cards, dice, faro, roulette, equality, punchboard, slot machine or other game for money or other thing.”
Two sections later, more details are given about what is not allowed:
Participating in a game for any sum of money or other property of any value
- Making any bet
- Giving or accepting anything of value to be wagered or transmitted for a wager in Iowa
- Delivering anything of value received outside of a racetrack as pari-mutuel wagers
- Engaging in bookmaking
The penalties for these crimes range from misdemeanors to felonies, depending upon the crime and severity of it.
In Title III about public services and regulations, Chapter 99 is dedicated to prostitution and gambling. Some of the types of legal gambling include manufacturing gambling devices for legal jurisdictions outside of Iowa, bingo, raffles, and casino-style gambling for charity, pari-mutuel wagering, lottery, and gambling specifically allowed by licensed operators such as riverboats and racetracks. Gambling games therein are described as “any game of chance authorized by the commission,” but does not include sports betting or games of chance authorized by this chapter.
In another part of Chapter 99, games of chance and skill are defined. A game of chance is
“a game whereby the result is determined by chance and the player in order to win completes activities, such as aligning objects or balls in a prescribed pattern or order or makes certain color patterns appear. Game of chance specifically includes but is not limited to bingo. Game of chance does not include a slot machine or amusement device.”
In contrast, a game of skill is
“a game whereby the result is determined by the player’s ability to do a task, such as directing or throwing objects to designated areas or targets, or by maneuvering water or an object into a designated area, or by maneuvering a dragline device to pick up particular items, or by shooting a gun or rifle.”
There is no mention of cards in this section whatsoever.
There is no mention of online gaming or gambling in any of the current Iowa statutes, nor does the Iowa Gaming Association mention anything about online poker or similar games on its website.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: So, is online poker illegal in Iowa?
Answer: Not specifically. Players have been competing on internet poker sites for many years, and law enforcement officials have never given any indication that they would track down or prosecute poker sites or players.
Question: Can Iowa players access PokerStars?
Answer: No. Sites like PokerStars, 888poker, and PartyPoker are not accessible to Iowa players. But there are numerous options like Bovada and Intertops that welcome players from Iowa.
Question: Are there online tournaments for Iowa players?
Answer: Yes. Some sites, like BetOnline and Bovada, operate on larger networks that not only offer daily online poker tournaments, but sharing tables with other sites allow them to offer bigger events and guaranteed prize pools for some of the tournaments.
Gaming Resources in Iowa