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Recreational Gambling Laws State by State: Pennsylvania to Wyoming...By Hartley Henderson

Pennsylvania It is actually unclear what Pennsylvania's laws say regarding recreational gambling. The statute deals solely with those in the business of gambling and makes it a misdemeanor offence to own gambling devices, run pools and be in the business of bookmaking. However there is nothing in the law that refers to placing a bet itself. The implication is likely that making a bet is a misdemeanor, but it is certainly not stated as such in the laws. Similarly there is nothing in the laws about social betting or internet wagering.

Rhode Island As is the case with Pennsylvania, Rhode Island's statutes don't single out the recreational gambler. Instead gambling is implied in the following confusing section related to types of gambling that is prohibited.

Forms of gambling prohibited. Every person who shall, directly or indirectly, set up, put forth, carry on, promote, or draw, publicly or privately, any lottery, chance, game, or device of any nature or kind whatsoever, or by whatsoever name it may be called, for the purpose of exposing, setting for sale or disposing of any money, houses, lands, merchandise, or articles of value shall be deemed guilty of a felony and shall be imprisoned not exceeding two (2) years or be fine, or shall sell or expose to sale lottery policies, purporting to be governed by the drawing of any public or private lottery, or shall sign or endorse any book, document, or paper whatsoever, for the purpose of enabling others to sell, or expose to sale, lottery policies, except as authorized in this chapter and in title 41 and chapters 61 and 61.2 of title 42, shall be deemed guilty of a felony and shall be imprisoned not exceeding two (2) years or be fined not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000).

There is nothing anywhere else in the statutes that talk about placing a bet other than Bingo which is generally allowed everywhere. There is certainly nothing that discusses online gambling. Running a gambling business is a felony punishable by jail time, but if placing a bet recreationally or professionally? You're guess is as good as mine.

South Carolina South Carolina is another state whose laws are uncertain in regards to the recreational bettor. As I read some of these laws as they are written it is clear they were drawn up decades ago and never really addressed since then. It is also evident that the legislators who were responsible for devising the laws often weren't sure what gambling entailed.

SECTION 16-19-40. Unlawful games and betting states the following: If any person shall play at any tavern, inn, store for the retailing of spirituous liquors or in any house used as a place of gaming, barn, kitchen, stable or other outhouse, street, highway, open wood, race field or open place at (a) any game with cards or dice, (b) any gaming table, commonly called A, B, C, or E, O, or any gaming table known or distinguished by any other letters or by any figures, (c) any roley-poley table, (d) rouge et noir, (e) any faro bank (f) any other table or bank of the same or the like kind under any denomination whatsoever or (g) any machine or device licensed pursuant to Section 12-21-2720 and used for gambling purposes, except the games of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist when there is no betting on any such game of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist or shall bet on the sides or hands of such as do game, upon being convicted thereof, before any magistrate, shall be imprisoned for a period of not over thirty days or fined not over one hundred dollars, and every person so keeping such tavern, inn, retail store, public place, or house used as a place for gaming or such other house shall, upon being convicted thereof, upon indictment, be imprisoned for a period not exceeding twelve months and forfeit a sum not exceeding two thousand dollars, for each and every offence.

Again nothing really relates to the casual gambler and nothing mentions online wagering, so it is safe to assume that recreational gambling in South Carolina is OK.

South Dakota South Dakota has perhaps the toughest laws regarding internet wagering in the country. The laws relate to those in the gambling business, but the laws seem to set up the possibility of eventually extending to those who make a bet in the future. The law of the state prohibits recreational or social betting also punishable by a fine or short prison sentence. The section relating to online betting was written about 4 years ago. In Section 22 "Crimes" under subsection 25A Without doubt it will be examined in the future. The following is a link to the lengthy section of the South Dakota Statute:

A couple of highlights from that section indicate that operating an internet gambling business is a class 6 felony on first conviction and class 5 felony thereafter punishable by up to 10 years in prison. As well, the state considers each bet a separate felony.

Tennessee Tennessee's gambling laws are short but to the point. Placing a bet in Tennessee is against the law and a misdemeanor offense. Anyone who is in the business of gaming is guilty of a felony and subject to prison time. There is no stipulation which allows any form of gambling other than state sanctioned lotteries and there is no mention of internet wagering.

Texas Texas makes it illegal to place any form of bet anywhere other than places sanctioned by the state. If, however, the bets take place in a private setting, and the game involves skill then there is no crime. The law doesn't mention anything about online wagering so it is fair to make the assumption that online poker, games of skill and possibly sports betting that involves handicapping is legal in Texas. Regardless, the state does not prosecute the recreational gambler. Those in the business of betting are guilty of a misdemeanor.

Utah Utah's laws with respect to gambling are very straight forward and in fact are written into the state's constitution.

"The Legislature shall not authorize any game of chance, lottery or gift enterprise under any pretense or for any purpose"

It certainly can't be any clearer than that, and is no doubt based on the Mormon dominated religion in the state which prohibits gambling. With that stipulation that gambling is illegal and can never be legal, I suppose there is really no need to discuss anything else as far as recreational betting goes in Utah. Those involved in the gambling business are guilty of a felony and face long jail time.

Vermont Like most states, Vermont's anti-gambling laws focus on those in the gambling business. Those placing bets recreationally are subject to a fine but the law isn't enforced. The state also lists persons in the gambling business as being guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to jail time, but it provides numerous exceptions including but not limited to non profit gaming, and certain lotteries. There is nothing in the Vermont statutes that discusses online wagering.

Virginia Virginia makes it a misdemeanor crime to place a bet in any common gaming house other than those permitted by the state, but it also excludes any betting that takes place in a private dwelling. The following is written in the statute:

"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 "

It can thus be argued that all poker games and any wagering that takes place privately in the privacy of one's home including internet wagering is legal since there is nothing else within the law that prohibits online wagering. The statute does prohibit certain types of wagering across territorial and state lines, however.

Those involved in the gambling business in Virginia, excluding areas sanctioned by the state are subject to a criminal felony conviction and jail time.

Washington Washington mentions in its statute that gambling is illegal but lists numerous exemptions including social betting, sports pools, turkey shoots, golfing sweepstakes, fishing derbies, non profit wagering, amusement games and numerous other areas which it authorizes. At the same time the state gained notoriety across the USA in 2006 when it passed a law that made it illegal to wager on the internet and more so named it a felony offence subject to up to 5 years in prison. The law sent shivers down many Washington state citizens and poker sites but also raised the ire of civil libertarians who decried the law as tyrannical and unconstitutional. It's one thing to suggest that placing a bet is wrong and issue a fine, but it's another to classify it in the same category as rape and theft. Consequently, the law is on the books of the state, but there is a movement to have it overturned and numerous poker sites have indicated that there is a good chance that Washington's courts will reverse the law.

The law comes under the heading of "Gambling information, transmitting or receiving" and states the following:

Whoever knowingly transmits or receives gambling information by telephone, telegraph, radio, semaphore, the internet, a telecommunications transmission system, or similar means, or knowingly installs or maintains equipment for the transmission or receipt of gambling information shall be guilty of a class C felony subject to the penalty set forth in RCW 9A.20.021. However, this section shall not apply to such information transmitted or received or equipment installed or maintained relating to activities authorized by this chapter or to any act or acts in furtherance thereof when conducted in compliance with the provisions of this chapter and in accordance with the rules adopted under this chapter. [2006 c 290 § 2; 1991 c 261 § 9; 1987 c 4 § 44; 1973 1st ex.s. c 218 § 24.]

Notes: State policy -- 2006 c 290: "It is the policy of this state to prohibit all forms and means of gambling, except where carefully and specifically authorized and regulated. With the advent of the internet and other technologies and means of communication that were not contemplated when either the gambling act was enacted in 1973, or the lottery commission was created in 1982, it is appropriate for this legislature to reaffirm the policy prohibiting gambling that exploits such new technologies." [2006 c 290 § 1.]

The law goes on in other sections to define the transmitting of gambling information to include making wagers.

West Virginia West Virginia only discusses betting at a gambling house such as a tavern and really only addresses betting at a gambling table. At the same time it declares the only legal forms of wagering at a gambling table are backgammon, chess, bowls and draught whatever those last 2 are. All other wagers are not legal and can land someone in the county jail for up to 30 days. The wording of the law makes it sound like it was written ages ago so there is certainly no mention of internet wagering. Those involved in the gambling business are guilty of misdemeanors and can be jailed for up to 3 months in the county clink.

Wisconsin Wisconsin makes it illegal to place a bet and a misdemeanor penalty. There is no exclusion for social betting nor for internet wagering. The legislation has interesting descriptions of "bets" and "bookmaking"

"A bet is a bargain in which the parties agree that, dependent upon chance even though accompanied by some skill, one stands to win or lose something of value specified in the agreement."

Clearly the definition of bet was drawn up to disallow any claims that the activity was legal because it involved skill.

"Bookmaking" means the receiving, recording or forwarding of a bet or offer to bet on any contest of skill, speed, strength or endurance of persons or animals."

Again the law was clearly drawn up to ensure that any bets involving living things is excluded.

The law also includes contests private or commercial.

Those involved in the business of gambling face a felony upon conviction.

Wyoming The last state in the alphabet is Wyoming. Wyoming seems to have no issue with recreational gambling provided it is based on skill or what they call "Calcutta wagering", i.e. that it is conducted by the state and is a bonafide test of strength or skill. In fact betting on dog racing is even allowed in Wyoming.

The law clearly outlaws anyone other than the state from profiting from betting.

There is nothing in the laws Wyoming that discusses the internet.

SUMMARY To summarize all the articles, the first thing to note is that no federal laws prohibit recreational gambling. That includes land based wagering, social wagering and internet wagering. The UIGEA only discusses those in the business of processing or accepting funds for internet wagering and the other federal laws address those in the business of gambling. The determination of what is legal or not regarding the recreational bettor is a state issue. Therefore, I've provided the state laws for all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and tried to focus on the recreational bettor, with a particular focus on internet gambling laws.

As can be seen, only one state, Utah, disallows all forms of wagering and they have written it into the constitution of the state. Unless the constitution is rewritten, legislators in Utah will never be able to legalize gambling of any form. Hawaii and Alaska also have no lotteries or other forms of state run wagering in their particular states, but recreational gambling is not prohibited, per se, in either of those two states.

Eight States (Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington) actually mention internet gambling within their laws. Wisconsin discusses wire communications and interstate wagering, although there is no specific mention of the internet itself. Of these only Washington listed wagering on the internet as a felony and punishable by prison time. That law is currently being appealed. Louisiana is the most draconian of the other states with internet gambling strictly specified, but even there gambling on the internet is a misdemeanor punishable with jail time. The other states simply incorporated the internet into their existing laws, with the exception of Montana and South Dakota whose internet laws are geared towards those in the business.

Michigan clearly has the most bizarre set of gambling laws while the District of Columbia and Rhode Island's laws are the most confusing.

The other state's laws relating to recreational wagering are either very lenient, such as Arkansas, or somewhat harsh, such as Florida. But in all cases, it is evident that arrests of recreational gamblers are few and far between. Most states are clearly interested in those involved in the gambling business.

The bottom line: if you live in Utah, Louisiana or Washington you are taking a chance wagering online. In all other states, the laws are there to see, but there should be no concern with being arrested by the police. Set up your accounts and have fun.

Hartley Henderson

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