Kentucky Poker & Gambling Laws

There is no law specifically referencing online poker as legal or illegal in Kentucky. You may be wondering if any other type of gambling is legal in Kentucky. The answer is yes, but only racing. Kentucky is known for its horse racing industry. It has a long history of racing and wagering on those races, and pari-mutuel betting is most definitely legal. People can bet on everything from horse racing, trotting, and pacing, and harness races.

The only other thing resembling gambling that is legal in Kentucky is some forms of charitable gambling, as well as the lottery, which was voted to be legalized in 1988 by the state’s residents.

Latest Developments Regarding Online Poker in Kentucky

Kentucky was one of the first states to try to take advantage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. On September 23, 2008, the Commonwealth of Kentucky seized the internet domains of 141 sites it claimed to be associated with online gambling. By the order of Governor Steve Beshear, a Franklin County Circuit Court judge allowed the seizure of the domains, which included such well-known sites as PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Bodog. While those and some other sites saw no disruption of services for players due to their usage of protected servers, many operators did experience troubles due to the action.

Beshear pushed for the seizures because he felt online gambling was a part of the “underworld.” He noted,

“The owners and operators of these illegal sites prey on Kentucky citizens, including our youth, and deprive the Commonwealth of millions of dollars in revenue.”

He called the operators “leeches on our communities.”

Many internet rights groups immediately objected to the move, saying it infringed upon rights of players and operators alike. They said the move amounted to censorship.

Several days later, a judge put a temporary freeze on the order, and another stay on the seizure was put in place by that same judge in November, prompted by briefs filed with the court by such organizations as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kentucky. But when the judge ruled that the domain names constituted “illegal gambling devices,” the site operators took their collective case to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

Some of the defendants and those speaking for defendants included:

  • PokerHost-dot-com
  • PlayersOnly-dot-com
  • GoldenPalace-dot-com
  • Interactive Gaming Council for gaming community
  • Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association for members who owned sites
  • Poker Players Alliance for more than 130,000 PPA members in Kentucky
  • Internet Commerce Association for members
  • Network Internet Solutions

The case became tied up in courts for years. In 2012, the same judge did order that 132 of the originally-listed 141 domains be seized by the state of Kentucky. PokerStars became one of the major players in the cases against the state, filing numerous motions through the years to dismiss the case. PokerStars claimed that Kentucky did not have jurisdiction over its domain because no registrations were within the borders of the state. In addition, PokerStars claimed that proper notice was not given and that the entire case was unconstitutional on the basis of interstate commerce and other constitutional clauses. Finally, it argued that domains were not gambling devices as claimed by the state.

By 2014, the Kentucky Court of Appeals had ruled that one of the above-listed trade organizations could intervene on behalf of its members, one of the sticking points of the rulings thus far. The court also ruled that domain names were not gambling devices, a key point of the entire battle.

On the day before Christmas in 2015, PokerStars then-owner Amaya was ordered by the Kentucky courts to pay $870 million in penalties to cover the losses that Kentucky estimated were lost on real-money poker between 2006 and 2011. Amaya appealed that ruling, and the case remains unresolved, considering Amaya contests the amount not only with the court but with the former owners of PokerStars, Rational Group.

The case was the only one of its kind wherein an American state tried to seize online poker domains. Years of legal battles ensued, which discouraged any other state from considering the same actions. Meanwhile, it made clear how Kentucky felt about online gambling and the site operators. It makes it highly unlikely that state legislators would consider legalizing online poker in the foreseeable future.

Kentucky Laws Pertinent to Online Poker

The Kentucky Statutes put gambling – with the exception of legalized horse racing and pari-mutuel betting – into Title L, which is the state’s penal code. Gambling is Chapter 528, just after eavesdropping and firearms offenses and before the listing of prostitution and pornography.

The chapter begins with several key definitions, including the definition of gambling as

“staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device which is based upon an element of chance, in accord with an agreement or understanding that someone will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.”

However, it then states,

“A contest or game in which eligibility to participate is determined by chance and the ultimate winner is determined by skill shall not be considered to be gambling.”

This could be challenged by poker advocates who claim that poker outcomes are determined by skill.

Advancing gambling activity is defined as when someone acts other than a player and dos something to materially aid any form of gambling. This definition even includes people who gamble at social games of chance.

A player, according to the law, is “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.”

The final pertinent definition in this section is a “simulated gambling program,” which is explained as

“any method intended to be used by a person playing, participating, or interacting with an electronic device that may, through the application of an element of chance, either deliver money or property or an entitlement to receive money or property.”

This is the closest that the law comes to discussing online gambling of any kind, but it again relies on the element of chance. However, this could be a statute under which Kentucky officials could pursue online gambling operators.

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:  Were players in danger when Kentucky seized online poker domains?

Answer:  No. It was clear that the state was not trying to arrest any players. Kentucky’s governor and the associated legal team made the case that Kentuckians were victims of the gambling sites, not criminals.

Question:  Could Kentucky officials seize more sites?

Answer:  It is unlikely that the state would want to sink more money into the same legal battle it fought for nearly a half-decade. The case became so costly that their point was lost in the fight. Nothing is out of the question, but it seems unlikely that Kentucky would walk the same path again for the few sites that remain available to Kentucky residents.

Question:  Are online poker sites still open to Kentucky players?

Answer:  There are several sites, like Bovada, Ignition Poker, and BetOnline, that continue to offer online poker to Kentuckians. Intertops has chosen to avoid that state and will block players from IP addresses in Kentucky, but other sites have not come to the same decision and remain open.

Gaming Resources in Kentucky