Poker Coverage:

Contracts And Poker: More Home Game Laws

by Scott J. Burnham |  Published: Jul 13, 2022

Print-icon
 

Card Player Magazine, available in print and online, covers poker strategy, poker news, online and casino poker, and poker legislation. Sign up today for a digital subscription to access more than 800 magazine issues and get 26 new issues per year!

I like the straightforward rule on home games in Connecticut. When you are researching the law on poker in your jurisdiction, look for statutes on gambling. Connecticut law starts out, like most states, by prohibiting all gambling. Gambling has the usual definition of a prize, a chance, and a consideration (what you are risking).

The rule on home games is often covered by an exception. This is the case in Connecticut, which states: “natural persons shall be exempt from prosecution and punishment under this subsection 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.”
That would cover a lot of friendly wagers as well as home poker games.

It is also important to see how words in the statute are defined. The exception for “professional gambling” is odd because professional gambling is defined as “accepting or offering to accept, for profit, money, credits, deposits or other things of value risked in gambling, or any claim thereon or interest therein.”

Isn’t that what we all do when we sit down to play poker – we hope to profit from the experience? I’m not sure what the legislators had in mind there, for they did not express it very well, but it would not stop me from attempting to profit by playing in a home game.

Florida takes a different approach. After prohibiting all gambling, it creates an exception for what it calls “penny ante” games. In its licensed card rooms, Florida used to have a pot limit, but did away with the limit about 10 years ago. However, the state caps the amount of the pot in penny ante games in order to keep the game small.

A penny-ante game is defined as “a game or series of games of poker, pinochle, bridge, rummy, canasta, hearts, dominoes, or mah-jongg in which the winnings of any player in a single round, hand, or game do not exceed $10 in value” and is described as follows:

A penny-ante game is subject to the following restrictions:

(a) The game must be conducted in a dwelling.
(b) A person may not receive any consideration or commission for allowing a penny-ante game to occur in his or her dwelling.
© A person may not directly or indirectly charge admission or any other fee for participation in the game.
(d) A person may not solicit participants by means of advertising in any form, advertise the time or place of any penny-ante game, or advertise the fact that he or she will be a participant in any penny-ante game.
(e) A penny-ante game may not be conducted in which any participant is under 18 years of age.

Another important thing to research is the consequence of violating the law. While some states punish only the organizer of a game that violates the law, Florida punishes all the participants. Connecticut not only punishes the participants but punishes you if you are “present when another person or persons are engaged in gambling!”

A good example of a state without an exception for home games is Idaho, which flat out states:

GAMBLING PROHIBITED. (1) A person is guilty of gambling if he: (a) Participates in gambling; or (b) Knowingly permits any gambling to be played, conducted or dealt upon or in any real or personal property owned, rented, or under the control of the actor, whether in whole or in part.

It always strikes me as odd that a state like Idaho, which has generally strong libertarian views, should be so down on poker. A few years ago, the tribal casino in Coeur d’Alene opened a poker room. This was unfathomable to me, as the rule under IGRA (the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) is that a tribe may offer only the Class III gaming otherwise allowed in the state unless authorized by its compact with the state.

As noted above, Idaho does not allow poker and the compact between the tribe and the state did not permit poker either. Sure enough, the state quickly brought Idaho’s brief experience with poker to a screeching halt. ♠

Scott J. Burnham is Professor Emeritus at Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane, Washington. He can be reached at profburnham@yahoo.com.