Indiana is one of those states where many residents consider gambling to be a part of normal, everyday life. Gambling has been a big part of the state’s tax revenue for years, from traditional casinos and racinos (horse racing tracks and casino establishments combined), to riverboat casinos and a state lottery that drew $188 million into Indiana’s tax coffers, not to mention paying out $495 million in prizes to winners across the state, in 2011.
With so much wagering going on in the Hoosier State, it’s rather surprising that the issue of online poker and other forms of internet gambling hasn’t been addressed in a more positive manner. As most of you know, the US government was staunchly against the concept of gambling over the internet since its passage of the UIGEA in 2006. The Department of Justice went so far as the seize the domain names of the world’s largest online poker sites – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker – on April 15, 2011; a date that became known universally as the Black Friday of Online Poker.
If that weren’t enough to shake the online gaming industry to its core, what happened next was even more astonishing. In December of that same year, the DOJ did a complete flip-flop. Where they once claimed the Wire Act of 1961 prohibited all internet gambling, they suddenly reversed their opinion, stating online poker and casino games were exempt from the Wire Act, thus each state could make their own laws regarding the legality of online poker and casino gambling. Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have already passes laws to regulate online poker within their borders, but where does Indiana stand?
Legality of Online Poker Indiana
Over the years, Indiana has slowly opened its doors to different forms of gambling. From 1988 to 1993, a multitude of casino propositions made their way through the assembly, but failed time and again. Finally, in an emergency assembly meeting near the end of 1993, riverboat casinos made their way onto the Ohio River and Lake Michigan, followed by three land-based casinos in central and southern Indiana. Poker has since become a big hit across the state, where WSOP Circuit events are held, as well as stops along the World Poker Tour.
As for playing poker over the internet, Indiana chose to address the issue sooner, rather than later. Legislators enacted laws to prohibit operators from presenting just about any form of online gambling to anyone on Indiana soil. Unlike most states, where the laws are as abstruse as the thought process of a menopausal woman, state law makers made it very clear that internet gambling operators are not welcome in Indiana.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at Indiana’s online poker laws. We’ll also discuss briefly any support for future legalization and regulation of online poker in the Hoosier State.
Indiana Code – Gambling
The following text is taken directly from the state government website’s documentation of Indiana Code; IC 35-45-5, Gambling. Note that some text has been omitted to maintain relativity and fluency, but care has been taken not to alter the meaning.
IC 35-45-5-1 : Definitions
Gambling: means risking money or other property for gain, contingent in whole or in part upon lot, chance, or the operation of a gambling device, but it does not include participating in:
(1) bona fide contests of skill, speed, strength, or endurance in which awards are made only to entrants or the owners of entries…
Gambling Device: means any electromechanical device, electrical device, or machine that satisfies at least one (1) of the following requirements:
(1) It is a contrivance which for consideration affords the player an opportunity to obtain money or other items of value, the award of which is determined by chance even if accomplished by some skill, whether or not the prize is automatically paid by the contrivance.
(2) It is a slot machine or any simulation or variation of a slot machine.
(3) It is a matchup or lineup game machine…
(4) It is a video game machine or device operated for consideration to play poker, blackjack, any other card game, keno, or any simulation or variation of these games…
Interactive Computer Service: means an Internet service, an information service, a system, or an access software provider that provides or enables computer access to a computer served by multiple users. The term includes the following:
(1) A service or system that provides access or is an intermediary to the Internet.
(2) A system operated or services offered by a library, school, state educational institution, or private postsecondary educational institution.
IC 35-45-5-2 : Unlawful Gambling
Note: This version of section effective until 7-1-2014. See also following version of this section, effective 7-1-2014.
(a) A person who knowingly or intentionally engages in gambling commits unlawful gambling.
(b) Except as provided in subsection (c), unlawful gambling is a Class B misdemeanor.
(c) An operator who knowingly or intentionally uses the Internet to engage in unlawful gambling:
(1) in Indiana; or
(2) with a person located in Indiana; commits a Class D felony. [will be upgraded to Level 6 felony as of 7-1-2014]
Indiana Code has a lot more to say in regards to its gambling laws, but these are the ones that pertain directly to the legalities of online poker in the state. If you wish to read them in full, please use the link provided at the top of this section.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Indiana?
The fact that the terms “interactive computer service” and “gambling device” were provided separately gives cause to believe that they are not one in the same. Add to that the fact that operators are solely targeted for punishment under unlawful gambling when the internet is involved is also interesting. It all points to internet gambling being a crime, but penalizing only the operators who make their services available to residents of the state. There are no penalties specifically defined for people in Indiana who participate in “internet” gambling.
On the other hand, laws are after misconstrued, and Indiana’s online poker laws could be considered just ambiguous enough to argue that online poker might be illegal for players as well. The law states that “a person who knowingly or intentionally engages in gambling” has committed a Class B misdemeanor. Thus outlawing online gambling could put the player at fault. While poker is specifically mentioned under “gambling devices”, games of skill are clearly exempt. In 2012, a US District Judge ruled that poker is a game of skill, therefore cannot be defined as gambling. Whether that argument would hold up in a court of law is yet to be seen, as there are no known cases where a player has been charged with participating in illegal online poker in Indiana.
In the end, only a professional law practitioner could truly answer the question of whether online poker is legal in Indiana.
Is Indiana working to regulate online poker?
Indiana has yet to draft any type of online poker bill. Considering that it has one of the largest gambling industries in the US, one would think that online gambling would naturally arise as a topic of regulatory need among law makers. However, despite the abundance of legal gambling activities going on, the Hoosier State is relatively conservative on such issues. For that reason alone, if and when an online poker bill does make its way onto the legislative table, there could be strong opposition from many politicians.