Home Poker Law

DISCLAIMER: The following is our layman interpretation of the home poker laws. We have consulted various sources in an attempt to make the home poker laws easier to understand. It should not be taken as legal advice and should be used as a guide only. Gamble at home at your own risk.

In the United States, about half of all states provide some kind of exemption in gambling laws that allow for home poker games, so long as the players are the only ones profiting from the game, or do not have any written law regarding the matter at all.

For home poker laws in other countries please post on the Home Poker Law forum so we can help you find out more.

Most state gambling laws are aimed at the prevention of commercial gambling. That means you can’t open a home poker game and charge $5 at the door, or take a rake from each pot or any player’s chip stack. It has to be an equally profitable game where only the players exchange money.

Basic Social Gambling Guidelines

Let us briefly define the guidelines of a “home poker” or “social gambling” experience:

  1. The host, or home owner, may not receive economic gain for hosting the game; only from personal winnings therein.
  2. There can be no advantage to one player over another. All must have an equal opportunity to win.
  3. The poker game must occur in a private setting, like within the home, or a private social club.

We will now define the home poker laws of each state, in plain English, referencing sources for those who prefer to decipher the language of law writers.

Part VII of the Canadian Criminal Code has the laws about gaming, betting, and gambling. Section 197 (sub-sections 1-4) defines the terms used in the Law.

"Common betting house": This is where people get together and play games. There is no 'House' collecting and paying bets, but rather a group of people playing against each other in some game of skill and chance. The host does not collect and pay bets, nor does the host collect a 'rake', as described below.

"Common gaming house": This is where people are enabled to conduct gaming against a second party. Take Home Craps, for example, where individual players play against the host, or House. When somebody's home is used to for somebody to arrange a game where he or she collects and pays bets, it falls under this definition. Some home gamblers refer to a 'rake', where the host collects a small percentage of all pots to help pay for hosting expenses. Use of 'rakes' also falls under this category.

"Disorderly house": A general term used to describe either a common betting house, a common gaming house.

"Game": The game itself, complete with rules and conditions.

"Keeper": The keeper of the house is the person whose name is on the lease, or is helping the person whose name is on the lease, or is acting on behalf of the person whose name is on the lease.

"Onus": If somebody is accused of being the keeper of a disorderly house, it's their job to convince a court otherwise. Even if the game is only started at one house and finished at another (ie. long game of Trips to Win), that first house is still a disorderly house.

Section 198 (only one sub-section) outlines what presumptions can be made by the Law when police officers show up at your door under the suspicion that yours is a disorderly house. They are allowed to assume that yours is such a house if one of the following things happen:

  1. The police officer was prevented or delayed from entering your house.
  2. The police officer did not find a game-in-progress, but did find enough gaming equipment (ie. poker chips, Craps tabletop, home roulette wheel, etc.) to make it clear enough.
  3. The police officer did not find a game-in-progress, but did find gaming equipment on the persons of people in the house (i.e. poker chips in everybody's pockets).
  4. The police officer did not charge you while you were found in the disorderly house, but after the keeper was convicted and it was proven that you were there, you can be charged.

Section 199 (sub-sections 1-7) outlines the procedure in dealing with a disorderly house.

Search: The keeper of the disorderly house and anybody in it may be apprehended with or without a warrant, if the officer can prove that it is a disorderly house.
Property: The court reserves the right to keep and/or dispose of any evidence (ie. gaming equipment) that it finds in the disorderly house.

Section 201 (only one sub-section) states that the keeper of the disorderly house and everybody found in it can be punished with a maximum sentence of two years. The word of the law does not specify whether or not the stakes of the game would have an influence on the amount of the punishment.

Home poker games are legal in Alabama so long as they follow the guidelines of a "social gambling" experience. The law specifically states that a player may use the defense of playing in a "social game" in a "private place", but the defendant must be able to provide proof.

[Reference: http://www.legislature.state.al.us/CodeofAlabama/1975/13A-12-21.htm]

Home poker games are perfectly legal in the state of Alaska when held under the provisions of a "social game", as defined in the social gambling guidelines above. The law specifically states legality under the circumstance of "a person who gambles at a social game on equal terms with the other participants".

Home poker games are defined as “social gambling”, and are perfectly legal in Arizona so long as the same guidelines listed above apply. This means that no “player” or “other person” may stand to gain “any benefit, directly or indirectly, other than the player’s/ winning from the gamble.” There may be no benefits do to proprietorship of the place in which the poker game is held. And players must “compete on equal terms with each other in a gamble”.

[Reference: http://www.azgaming.gov/misc-pdf/Gambling_PSA_Pamphlet2.pdf]

Arkansas strictly prohibits any form of gambling on card games, regardless of the location or value to one or more players, or the host. The law states: “If any person shall be guilty of betting any money or any valuable thing on any game of brag, bluff, poker, seven-up, three-up, twenty-one, vingt-et-un, thirteen cards, the odd trick, forty-five, whist, or at any other game at cards, known by any name now known to the law, or with any other or new name or without any name, he shall, on conviction be fined in any sum not less than ten dollars ($10.00) nor more than twenty-five dollars ($25.00).”

[Reference 1, Original .DOC Version: http://ag.arkansas.gov/opinions/docs/2005-217.doc]

California is very opened minded to gambling laws, much more so than most US states. Home poker games are perfectly legal in California. “Under California law, ‘controlled games’ such as poker can be played only in tribal casinos, licensed card rooms or private homes.”

[Reference: Nathan Barankin, spokesman for California state attorney general, USA Today; http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-01-17-poker-craze_x.htm]

Home poker games are legal in Colorado so long a they meet two criteria: They must involve players with a “bona fide social relationship” (have something in common outside of the game), and have no “profit motive” outside of equal opportunity winnings derived straight from the game.

[Reference: http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/Rev-Gaming/RGM/1213781235201]

Connecticut outlaws poker games in most instances, but makes an exception for home poker games that fall into the category of “social gambling”, where no player or other person has an advantage over another, or profits in any way, monetary or otherwise, for hosting such a poker game. The participants must have a “bona fide social relationship”, meaning they have something in common outside of the home poker game.

[Reference: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2007/rpt/2007-R-0495.htm]

The state of Delaware does not have any laws that strictly prohibit home poker games or private, social gambling of any kind. However, the state does not legalize such acts either.

The only reference to the legality of home poker games in Delaware is found in Section 17 of Article II, Legislature, which states:

"All forms of gambling are prohibited in this State except the following:”

  • “…Lotteries under State control…”
  • “Lotteries … provided under Section 17B…”
  • “…pari-mutuel machines or totalizators on horse races conducted at racetracks…”
  • “Bingo games as conducted under the limitations of Section 17A.”

The lack of mention of poker, card games, or skill games leads us only to conclude that home poker games would not be legal in Delaware.

[Reference: http://delcode.delaware.gov/constitution/constitution-03.shtml#P264_33577]

Home poker games are permitted in Florida so long as they fall under a few strict guidelines. The game must be held in a residential dwelling, and must be defined, by law, as a “penny-ante” game. The owner of the dwelling, nor any player, may profit from the holding of the game outside of any equal-opportunity winnings derived from the game. All participants must be 18+ years of age. The home poker game cannot be advertised in any way. The “penny-ante” rules states that the pot in a single hand of poker may not exceed a value of $10.

[Reference: http://www.leg.state.fl.us/STATUTES/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=Ch0849/SEC085.HTM&Title=->2009->Ch0849->Section%20085#0849.085]

Home poker games are not legal in Georgia. Though the state’s laws do not explicitly outlaw “social gambling”, it does provide legislation that legalizes only three forms of gambling – bingo, state lotteries and raffles. [Reference 1: O.C.G.A. Title 16, Chapter 12]

[Reference 2: http://gbi.georgia.gov/00/channel_modifieddate/0,2096,67862954_88103912,00.html]

Yes, Hawaii condones home poker games as social gambling, again following the basic guidelines of “social gambling”. All players must compete equally. None shall profit in any way other than their personal gambling profits. The gambling activity must not be bookmaking, and must not be held in a business establishment or public area.

[Reference: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/hrscurrent/Vol14_Ch0701-0853/HRS0712/HRS_0712-1231.htm]

Idaho strictly prohibits most gambling activities within it borders, including all forms of poker – home game or otherwise. The only forms of gambling permitted in Idaho are state lotteries, pari-mutuel betting, and charitable forms of bingo and raffle games.

[Reference: Article III, Section 20 of the Idaho Constitution, http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Article_III,_Idaho_Constitution]

The state of Illinois has specific laws in place that restrict home poker games and just about any other form of social gambling. Placing a wager, monetary or otherwise, on any game of chance or skill, whether you’re directly involved in the game or not, is illegal in Illinois.

[Reference: Illinois Law]

Home poker games are not legal in Indiana. The Indiana Code defines ‘Unlawful Gambling’ as anyone who engages in gambling, where ‘gambling’ is defined as risking anything of value on a lot, chance or operation of a gambling device. There is an exemption for skill games, but Indiana does not see poker as a game of skill.

[Reference: http://www.in.gov/legislative/ic/code/title35/ar45/ch5.html]

Home poker games are illegal in Iowa, restricting all forms of social gambling within the state’s borders. The only forms of gambling allowed in Iowa are charitable bingo and legitimate racetrack betting.

[Reference: http://www.legis.state.ia.us/IACODE/2001/725/7.html;

Reference to legal forms of gambling in chapters 99B (bingo) and 99D (racetrack): http://www.legis.state.ia.us/lsadocs/Legis_Guide/2009/LGLSL008.PDF]

By definition, “gambling” is against the law in Kansas, including home poker games. The only forms of betting permitted in the state are licensed bingo games, state lotteries and pari-mutuel. All other forms of gambling, social or commercial, are strictly prohibited.

[Reference: http://kansasstatutes.lesterama.org/Chapter_21/Article_43/21-4302.html]

The legality of home poker games in Kentucky is somewhat confusing. When you read over the gambling laws, it specifically states that yes, gambling is illegal, but it also makes an exception for games in which the “ultimate winner is determined by skill”. Kentucky law does not define poker as a game of chance or skill; does not define the game at all. It depends on the interpretation of “skill”, and the “ultimate winner” being determined by skill.

[Reference: http://www.lrc.ky.gov/KRS/528-00/010.PDF]

In the state of Louisiana, unlawful gambling is defined as “the intentional conducting, or directly assisting in the conducting, as a business, of any game, contest, lottery, or contrivance whereby a person risks the loss of anything of value in order to realize a profit.” A home poker game, where there is no profit made by any player or host of the game, aside from actual winnings derived from the poker game, does not qualify as a business. Therefore, yes, home poker games are legal in Louisiana.

Home poker games are legal in Maine so long as they standard rules of “social gambling” are upheld. No player or other person may benefit from hosting the event. All profits must come from actual winnings from the poker game. No player may have an advantage over another. Etc, etc, etc… Maine does have strict regulations that prohibit unlawful gambling, but an exception is made for “players” in a “social gambling” situation.

[Reference: http://mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/17-A/title17-Ach39.pdf]

The state of Maryland does not allow for home poker games according to the Maryland Code, section 12 on forms of legal gambling. Pari-mutuel gambling and some instances of charitable raffles are the only legal forms of gambling in Maryland. Any other form of gambling, including social gambling, is punishable as a misdemeanor with a minimum/maximum fine of $200-$1,000.

The laws of Massachusetts are not clearly defined pertaining to social gambling situations. It is clear that a player who loses any money or thing of value may reclaim that loss, by law, within three months, but the actual legality of playing home poker games is not referenced in Massachusetts General Law.

[Reference, MGL Chapter 137 Sections 1-7: http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/gl-137-toc.htm]

Michigan does not condone home poker games. Social gambling, for the most part, is illegal in Michigan. There is an exception, however, for senior citizens within a senior citizen housing facility, where there are at least 15 members age 60+. There may not be more “guest” participants than resident/club member senior citizens, and it must be a “recreational” poker game, meaning no more than $0.25 per bet, and no single-hand pot exceeding $5.

[Reference: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/PA69_56070_7.pdf; Link 2]

In the state of Minnesota, home poker games are an accepted form of gambling. Minnesota state law specifies that “Social bets are allowed only if they are done in a private social setting”. Social gambling is only illegal when it pertains to “organized, commercialized, or systematic gambling”, or when the owner/host of the residence profits in some way from the home poker game other than actual gambling profits from playing the card game.

[Reference: http://www.gcb.state.mn.us/PDF_Files/Illegal%20gambling.pdf]

Home poker games are illegal in Mississippi. The current laws, as they were written in 1972, are somewhat disconcerting in fact, when you read them over. All forms of illegal gambling and wagering are listed, stating each unlawful activity, followed by the sole exception of “other than a fight or fighting match between dogs”. This appears more than once in the documentation. Apparently it is better to place wagers on the life of two or more traditionally domesticated animals than to play a quiet game of poker among friends in the comfort of your own home.

[Reference: http://www.mscode.com/free/statutes/97/033/0001.htm]

In the state of Missouri, home poker games are illegal by omission. State law provides parameters for all legal forms of gambling, leaving all other forms as criminal activity. Unlawful forms of gambling are considered a class C misdemeanor in Missouri, unless the player qualifies, under law, as a “professional gambler”, in which case it is moved to a class D misdemeanor.

[Reference: http://www.moga.mo.gov/statutes/chapters/chap572.htm]

In terms of unlawful gambling definitions, Montana law is opposed to any game of skill where one player or operator is given a distinct advantage over another. Therefore a social gambling game, such as a home poker game, is permitted so long as no player, host or proprietor is profiting in any way outside of participation in the game that results in winnings from the gamble itself.

The only forms of gambling permitted by Nebraska state law are bingo games, lotteries and raffles designated or licensed by the state. Therefore all social gambling, including home poker games, are outlawed.

Home poker games are perfectly legal in Nevada. State law defines all unlawful gambling activities, but specifically excludes “games played with cards in private homes or residences in which no person makes money for operating the game, except as a player…”

[Reference: http://www.leg.state.nv.us/nrs/NRS-463.html#NRS463Sec0152 (specifically NRS 463-0152)]

Social gambling and home poker games are not legal in New Hampshire. The gambling laws specifically state that “A person is guilty of a misdemeanor if such person knowingly and unlawfully… permits gambling in any place under the person's control”, which eliminates the legality of playing in a home. Only licensed games, such as horse racing, boxing and raffles, are legal gambling activities within the state.

[Reference: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/LXII/647/647-2.htm]

The criminal law statues of New Jersey prohibit home poker games and all other forms of social gambling that are not licensed or approved by the state. According to New Jersey Criminal Law, 2A: 40-1, “All wagers, bets or stakes made to depend upon any race or game, or upon any gaming by lot or chance, or upon any lot, chance, casualty or unknown or contingent event, shall be unlawful”.

[Reference: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2008/Bills/S1000/746_I1.HTM]

Home poker games are considered unlawful by New Mexico state law. Article 19, Section 30-19-2 of New Mexico Criminal Law clearly states that “whoever commits gambling is guilty of a petty misdemeanor”. Jumping back to Section 30-19-1, the law defines all gambling as placing a “bet”, which is thereby defined as “a bargain in which the parties agree that, dependent upon chance, even though accompanied by some skill, one stands to win or lose anything of value specified in the agreement”. End result, social gambling is illegal in New Mexico.

[Reference: Article 19, Section 30-19-1 http://law.justia.com/newmexico/codes/nmrc/jd_30-19-1-c8e1.html; Article 19, Section 30-19-2 http://law.justia.com/newmexico/codes/nmrc/jd_30-19-2-c8e3.html]

Social gambling is just as illegal in New York as professional (criminal) gambling. The only difference between the two is the severity of penalties, particularly for those hosting home poker games, versus illegal professional gambling. According to New York state law, a the definition of a “player” under gambling offenses includes a “person who gambles at a social game of chance on equal terms with the other participants”.

[Reference: http://ypdcrime.com/penal.law/article225.htm]

Home poker games are not legal in North Carolina. The state’s statutes provide legalization of state-approved lotteries, gaming, bingo and raffles, outlawing all other forms of gambling. Chapter 14-292 states that “any person… who plays at or bets in any game at which any money, property or other thing of value is bet, whether the same be in stake or not, shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.” The chapter provides an exception from Chapter 18C, which regards legal lotteries. We’ve referenced both sections below.

[Reference Chapter 14-292: http://www.ncleg.net/enactedlegislation/statutes/html/bysection/chapter_14/gs_14-292.html; Reference Chapter 18C: http://www.ncleg.net/enactedlegislation/statutes/html/bysection/chapter_18c/gs_18c-130.html]

North Dakota home poker games are perfectly legal. There is only one stipulation regarding home poker games and social gambling conducted within a private residence, found in Chapter 12.1-82-02, Classification of Gambling Related Offenses; “It is an infraction to engage in gambling on private premises where the total amount wagered by an individual player exceeds twenty-five dollars per individual hand, game, or event.” In short, no hand can exceed a maximum pot of $25.

It is perfectly legal to play home poker games in Ohio so long as no person is profiting from ownership of the residence, or hosting of the game. The only time players are committing a crime is if they are considered professional gamblers, which basically means they are profiting more from home poker games than they are from any other source of income.

[Reference: http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/2915]

Oklahoma does not allow home poker games. The law specifically prohibits all forms of gambling, in or outside of a private residence. If convicted, a player is subject to a fine of $25-$100, or 1-30 days in jail.

[Reference OS §21941: http://law.justia.com/oklahoma/codes/os21.html]

In the state of Oregon, home poker games are classified as “social games”, which are legal according to the provisions of the Oregon Revised Statues. Home poker games are permitted so long as all players qualify as “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…”

[Reference ORS Gambling Offenses Chapters 161 and 167: http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/167.html]

It is not clear whether home poker games are considered “unlawful gambling” in the state of Pennsylvania. According to current legislation, a person may not do the following:

…allow persons to collect and assemble for the purpose of unlawful gambling at any place under his control

…solicit or invite any person to visit any unlawful gambling place for the purpose of gambling; or

…be the owner, tenant, lessee or occupant of any premises, knowingly permits or suffers the same, or any part thereof, to be used for the purpose of unlawful gambling. However, there is no published definition of “unlawful gambling”.

Pennsylvania does not provide its statues online for viewing, therefore we cannot properly reference with 100% accuracy. Please be advised that our reference source cannot be guaranteed accurate at this time, and may or may not be complete.

[Reference: http://law.onecle.com/pennsylvania/crimes-and-offenses/]

No, home poker games are not legal in Rhode Island. No form of social gambling is permitted. After researching the lengthy (and by that we mean wordy) statues referring to unlawful gambling, we can shorten the whole thing into this simple statement. You may not provide a poker game without first getting permission from the state, and you may not participate in a poker game that has not been approved by the state.

Home poker games are currently illegal in South Carolina, however, there is an amendment working its way through legislation that would allow for home poker games as “recreational activity”. The definition of recreational activity has yet to be given, since the amendment has yet to be approved.

[Reference H 3201, to Amend Section 16-19-40, Code of Laws, South Carolina: Link 1]

South Dakota documents its unlawful gambling statutes in a very vague way, as to include all forms of gambling without actually stating each and every type of gambling prohibited. Because of this, home poker games are included as unlawful gambling activities in South Dakota.

[Reference: http://legis.state.sd.us/statutes/DisplayStatute.aspx?Type=Statute&Statute=22-25-1]

In Tennessee, home poker games are outlawed by default, as they are not specifically mentioned anywhere in the state’s legislation. The Tennessee Code only proffers legal gambling venues, which include approved, state-issued lotteries and annual, authorized charitable gambling events. Every other form of gambling is restricted.

In Texas, home poker games are legalized by specific exceptions in the unlawful gambling laws. The Texas Statues clearly indicates that social games are legal if a player “engaged in gambling in a private place”; “no person received any economic benefit other than personal winnings”; and “except for the advantage of skill or luck, the risks of losing and the chances of winning were the same for all participants”.

[Reference: http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/txstatutes/PE/10/47/47.02]

Utah is another state where home poker games are considered unlawful gambling. There are no exceptions for private dwellings or equal opportunity gains. As defined by the Utah Code, all forms of gambling are illegal except amusement devices. This law dates all the way back 1953.

[Reference Utah Code 76-10-11: http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/ngisc/reports/ut.pdf]

Home poker games are not legal in Vermont, but they do carry a very lenient penalty. The law states, “A person who wins or loses money or other valuable thing by play or hazard at any game, or by betting on such play or hazard, or sharing in a stake wagered by others on such play or hazard, shall be fined not more than $200.00 nor less than $10.00.”

[Reference: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/statutes/sections.cfm?Title=13&Chapter=051]

You are allowed to play home poker games in Virginia thanks to an exception to the definition “illegal gambling” that states, “Nothing in this article shall be construed to make it illegal to participate in a game of chance conducted in a private residence, provided such private residence is not commonly used for such games of chance and there is no operator…” (an operator being the home owner or host of the game who profits from proprietorship or hosting of the game).

The state of Washington has invoked laws that permit legal home poker games, defined as “social card games” in RCW 9.46.0282 (see Reference). So long as the players follow the basic guidelines of social gambling, meaning no player or host profits in any way aside from the gamble, the game is not promoted and all players have an equal chance, no crime is being committed. There are also laws in place to allow social card games within certain business establishments.

[Reference Social Card Games: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=9.46.0282; Reference 9.46.070: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=9.46.070; Reference Social card Games in Business Establishments: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=9.46.0325]

Home poker games are considered unlawful gambling in West Virginia. The law states that any person, at any place, public or private, is guilty of a misdemeanor for betting or waging anything of value on any game that involves chance. The penalty is a fine between $5 and $300, with a possibility of up to 1 year probation.

[Reference 61-10-5: http://www.legis.state.wv.us/WVCODE/Code.cfm?chap=61&art=10]

In the state of Wisconsin, home poker games are illegal by default. The law states all forms of betting that are permitted, prohibiting all other forms of gambling. The only permitted wagers are those placed on publically licensed contests, bingo, raffles, pari-mutuel wagering and lotteries.

[Reference: http://www.legis.state.wi.us/statutes/Stat0945.pdf]

Wyoming home poker games are legally acceptable by Wyoming Statues definition of Gambling, which provides exceptions for “any game, wager or transaction which is incidental to a bona fide social relationship, is participated in by natural persons only, and in which no person is participating, directly or indirectly, in professional gambling.” Professional gambling would require someone to profit indirectly from the actual game, by charging an admission fee, taking a portion of the pot(s), etc.

[Reference: http://legisweb.state.wy.us/statutes/statutes.aspx?file=titles/Title6/T6CH7.htm]

If your country or region is not listed here let us know on our Home Poker Law forums and we'll do the research for you!

Remember! We are not official legal advice - we are only trying to help guide you - please consult your local authority for more legal advice and you gamble at home at your own risk. Good luck!

Here are some other links that may help you: