Home Poker Laws
Is it legal to host a poker tournament in my area?
Don't rely on legal advice from some anonymous person on the internet - call your local police department using their non-emergency phone number and ask them if it is
legal for you to host a poker game. Call from a pay phone is you are paranoid about giving away your phone number. Police receive phone calls like this all the time ... is it legal for me to burn
trash, is it legal for me to hunt, etc.. Put your tax dollars to work and give your local police a call.
In general, it may be legal to host a poker game as long as the game is not raked but it is probably illegal to host a raked game. In some states and countries it is
illegal to host a poker game whether the game is raked or not. Again, call your local police department.
Some questions that you should ask ...
- Can I rake my game (collect money for hosting the game)?
- Can I charge for food?
- Can I sell alcohol or soft drinks?
- Can I ask my players to contribute towards the cost of supplies such as poker chips or playing cards?
- Can I accept tips or donations?
Some other considerations (that your local police might not be able to answer)...
- Can I collect a bad beat jackpot? Collecting money from players that might not be paid out that evening might make your otherwise legal game illegal.
- Can I accumulate money to be paid out at a later date, for example to pay a prize for your league champion or to send a player to the WSOP?
Raked vs. non-raked
It may be legal for you to host a non-raked poker game but illegal for you to host a raked poker game. What is a raked game? A raked game is a game where someone collects
money that is not paid out in prize money to the players. Examples of a rake are collecting money or chips from each hand played, collecting money for hosting the event, collecting money based on time
played (time charge), seat fees, or collecting money for
Raking a game may turn your otherwise legal game into an illegal game and might even turn your house in to gaming establishment (casino). Believe me, you don't want to start up a
casino without going through the proper legal channels.
The laws that govern your area might be covered by national laws, state, county, or regional laws, or city laws. Nevada has some of the most severe laws when it comes to
hosting poker games.
Can I host a poker game in a bar or commercial establishment?
Hosting a poker game in a commercial establishment might lead to serious legal complications, more so for the commercial establishment than for yourself. It might be legal
for you to host a (non-raked) game in your home but hosting the exact same (non-raked) game in a commercial establishment might make the game illegal. Lets say you decide to hold your non-raked
game in a local bar - that bar will probably sell alcohol and food during your game, thereby profiting from your game and making it illegal. Even the additional business that the bar will receive from
your game might make the game illegal. Hosting a game in a coffee shop might lead to increased sales of coffee and make you game illegal.
The simple act of holding your poker game in a commercial establishment might
make that commercial establishment an unlicensed casino in the eyes of the law. Do you really want to be visited by the police, cited for hosting a poker game, and have to prove to a judge that you are
not running a casino?
Collecting money for food
It is probably legal for the players in a home poker game to pool their money together to buy a pizza, pretzels, peanuts, or other food. It is probably a good idea to have someone other than the host of the game collect the money for food. Let one of your players collect the money, order the pizza,
and pay the delivery person. This will help avoid having to explain why you (the host) collected money that was not paid out as prize money to your players.
It is probably illegal for the host to charge money for food, even peanuts and pretzels. I phoned my local police department and asked if it was legal for me to host a
poker game and was told that it was legal as long as all money paid in was paid out. I was told that I cannot collect money for serving food, even if I did not make a profit from that food - it
is illegal for me to collect one dollar from each player and then serve a steak and lobster dinner to each player (at a substantial loss to me).
Selling alcohol without a proper permit or license is illegal almost everywhere in the world. Sell one beer to one friend and you could be in big time trouble.
Accepting tips or donations
Is it legal to accept tips or donations from your players? Maybe - call your local police and ask them. Forcing someone to tip or make a donation is probably illegal.
Hiring a (paid) dealer
Is legal to pay a dealer to deal at your game? Probably. Does this turn your home into an illegal unlicensed casino? Maybe.
Collecting money for a league championship or bad beat jackpot
It may be illegal for you to collect money to be paid out to the league champion at a later date. The act of collecting money that is not immediately paid out could make
your game illegal. Collecting money for a bad beat jackpot might also make your game illegal since you will be collecting money that might be paid out that game, or next month, or next
One of the easiest ways to run afoul of the law is to upset your neighbors by occupying all the parking spots on your residential street. It will only take a couple
tournaments before your neighbors clue in to the fact that all those beer-bellied guys showing up at your house are there to play poker. This could lead to an upset neighbor calling the police
and reporting your game. Try to arrange for your players to share rides or park at a nearby location instead of on the street in front of your house. Ask your players to be fairly quiet when they
leave your house at the end of the game.
Do I have to pay taxes on my poker winnings?
Again, this varies depending on your location. In general, poker winnings/losses are of no concern to your local tax collector unless you are in the profession of playing
poker. If you make your living playing poker you can probably deduct your poker losses but also have to declare your poker winnings. Consult a lawyer or accountant in your area.
Contacting me about the legality of hosting a poker game in your area
If you send me an email asking whether it is legal for you to host a game - you will receive an email from me advising you to contact your local police non-emergency phone
Links to home poker laws
Gambling and the Law
Poker Pages - Home Poker and the Law
Poker Player's Alliance
TwoPlusTwo Forum - Poker Legislation
I am not a lawyer and do not play a lawyer on television. This page is not legal advice. Please consult with your local police or a lawyer for legal advice.