There’s nothing quite like getting the boys or girls around your place for a game of poker. It’s a pastime that’s enjoyed all over the planet. From Holland to Hong Kong and Brazil to Belgium, groups of friends meet to enjoy one of the most complex yet accessible games on the planet. Of course, the best things about a home game is there are no stuffy casino rules to abide by, you can bring your own refreshments, and you can take the game as fast or slow as you want.
Everyone knows that the good old U.S. of A is the spiritual home of poker. It’s no secret that most online casinos are illegal here. It takes little searching to find options that will serve us Americans though. However, even by enjoying this almost two-centuries-old pastime with some friends in your own home, you might be breaking the law. That’s right, it really does depend which side of an imaginary line drawn on a map you reside on. This applies to most games of chance, including casino games such as blackjack, roulette and craps.
In this article, I’ll be breaking down the legality of home poker games state by state. This isn’t meant to serve as hard-and-fast legal advice though. If you’re in any doubt, consult a qualified legal authority before upping the antes and busting out the high value chips at home.
Home Poker Law by State
I’ve categorized the various legal stances of the different states below. They all loosely fall into one of the following groups: prohibited, legal, legal if social guidelines are followed, legal if social guidelines plus other rules are followed, and downright confusing.
Before each section, there is a short explanation as to what is meant by each category.
States Where Home Poker Games Are Fully Illegal
The first group of states needs little explanation. These are examples of jurisdictions in which home games of poker are illegal. This means the legislation is quite explicit about the fact that betting on cards on private property is punishable by law.
— Delaware: There is no law governing home games of poker. However, the state legislature says, “All forms of gambling are prohibited in this State.”
— Indiana: Games of chance are illegal, games of skill or not. The state does not deem poker a skill game, so home games are illegal.
— Michigan: An exception is made for a senior citizen housing facility if there are harsh betting restrictions ($5 maximum to be won in a single hand).
— Mississippi: Bizarrely, you’re allowed to bet on dog fighting but not a home game of cards
— New Hampshire
— New Jersey
— New Mexico
— New York
— North Carolina
— Rhode Island: All games of poker are illegal unless they’re given permission from the state itself (good luck with that in your sorority or frat house!)
— South Carolina: Illegal, but there is a motion to see recreational home games made legal.
— South Dakota
— Vermont: Illegal, but with a very lenient penalty of a $200 maximum fine.
— West Virginia
The next group are the most liberal states when it comes to home games. There are very few guidelines governing what is considered a home game in this short list. They all require that no one profits directly from hosting the game though (no rake or buy-in fees can be charged by the proprietor).
— Louisiana: Only gambling organized by a “business” (seeking profit) is illegal. Home games are not.
— North Dakota: Home games are legal here but there is a maximum limit on the size of bets of $25 per hand.
— Ohio: All home games are legal. However, professional gamblers are deemed to be breaking the law by playing in these games. Professional here is defined as someone who makes more money from poker than any other income source.
Legal If Abiding by Social Guidelines
Many states allow home games of poker provided they satisfy certain criteria. These “social guidelines” define when a game is a social event and when it is something else. There are three main rules:
1. The host may not profit from the hosting of the game. They can profit by winning, but rake and buy-in fees are expressly forbidden.
2. All players must have an equal chance of winning a game. This means games must be fair.
3. Games must be held in a private location — a home, or social club, for example.
The following states use the above social guidelines to determine whether a home poker game is lawful:
Legal If Abiding by Social Guidelines and Other Rules
This next lot of states require that home games abide by the same social guidelines as above with a few additional rules. I’ve listed the extra rules next to each entry.
— Colorado: Social games must involve players with a “bona fide social relationship” (have something in common outside of the game).
— Connecticut: A social relationship between players must exist away from the table.
— Wyoming: Again, players must be able to prove that they know each other outside of a gambling setting.
— Florida: In addition to the social guidelines listed above, players are restricted to a $10 maximum limit on a single hand. Such games are referred to as “penny-ante” poker games. In addition, all players must be over the age of 18.
If the state you’re wanting to host a home game of poker in hasn’t been mentioned yet, then I feel for you. Unfortunately, it falls into the “confusing” legislative category. These are states in which the act of social gambling or home poker games haven’t been clearly defined.
— Kentucky: Gambling is illegal unless it’s a game in which skill is used. Poker is not defined as either a game of skill or chance in Kentucky (it’s not actually defined at all).
— Massachusetts: Actual legality of playing home poker games is not referenced at all in Massachusetts General Law.
— Pennsylvania: There are provisions in law about “unlawful gambling.” Again, it’s unclear whether poker falls into them.