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Hawaii Online Poker Laws

There is so much to do on the resplendent islands of Hawaii; a hub for tropical vacationers around the world. You can sip a fruity cocktail on the white sandy beaches, go snorkeling with the most colorful aquatic sea creatures in crystal clear waters, or surf upon majestic waves off the coast of Maui. But can you play online poker in Hawaii without fret of legal recourse? That’s the question we aim to answer.

A lot has happened in the United States regarding the legalities of online poker and online gambling in general over the last few years. As you may remember, the US government passed the UIGEA in 2006, declaring all forms of internet gambling to be illegal by virtue of the Wire Act of 1961. In 2011, the DOJ went a step further, indicting three of the world’s largest online poker rooms – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker – for breaching the UIGEA, resulting in the Black Friday of Online Poker (April 15, 2011). In December of the same year, the DOJ did a complete 180, reversing its opinion that the Wire Act outlawed online gambling. The government unexpectedly gave US states the right to choose whether they wanted to regulate online poker within their own borders. Some states, like Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware, have chosen to do so, but so far, no other state has passed relative legislation, and unfortunately, it doesn’t appear Hawaii will be jumping on the bandwagon anytime soon.

Legality of Online Poker Hawaii

It’s clear that Hawaii does not smile upon any form of gambling activities. There are no casinos, no horse tracks, no dog tracks, no public gambling facilities of any kind located on any of the territorial islands. In fact, Hawaii is one of just 7 states in the US that does not offer a state lottery, and one of just 2 that goes so far as to prohibit charitable gambling (raffles, bingo, etc.)

According to the obsolescent laws in the state of Hawaii, online poker is not specifically rendered illegal. However, as is often the case with the vague verbiage of state laws, it could be determined that playing poker for real money over the internet in the Aloha State is prohibited by association. We will attempt to dissect the gambling laws of Hawaii to establish whether or not online poker is outlawed in Paradise. However, the outcome of this research is not official and, as always, you should check with a legal authority before choosing to play online poker in Hawaii.

Hawaii Revised Statues – Gambling Offenses

Below are several key excerpts from the Hawaii Revised Statutes, Part III, Sub-Section 712-1220, regarding gambling offenses, definitions and penalties. Note that in some cases the text has been abridged to maintain fluency without altering the meaning.

Definitions of Gambling Terms

Gambling:  A person engages in gambling if he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome…

Contest of chance: means any contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device in which the outcome depends in a material degree upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that skill of the contestants may also be a factor therein.

Gambling device: means any device, machine, paraphernalia, or equipment that is used or usable in the playing phases of any gambling activity, whether that activity consists of gambling between persons or gambling by a person involving the playing of a machine…

Player: means a person who engages in gambling solely as a contestant or bettor.

Penalties of Gambling Offenses in Hawaii

§712-1221 Promoting gambling in the first degree.

(1)  A person commits the offense of promoting gambling in the first degree if the person knowingly advances or profits from gambling activity by:

(a)   Engaging in bookmaking to the extent that the person receives or accepts in any seven-day period more than five bets totaling more than $500; or

(b)   Receiving in connection with a lottery, or mutuel scheme or enterprise, money or written records from a person other than a player whose chances or plays are represented by such money or records; or

(c)   Receiving or having become due and payable in connection with a lottery, mutuel, or other gambling scheme or enterprise, more than $1,000 in any seven-day period played in the scheme or enterprise.

(2)  Promoting gambling in the first degree is a class C felony.

§712-1222 Promoting gambling in the second degree.

(1)  A person commits the offense of promoting gambling in the second degree if the person knowingly advances or profits from gambling activity.

(2)  Promoting gambling in the second degree is a misdemeanor.

What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Hawaii?

While there are no terms specifically identifying “online/internet” poker or gambling to be illegal, the definition of “gambling device” could be construed as inclusive. Furthermore, the definition of “gambling” points to any game of chance. One could arguably reason that poker is a game of skill, but then the definition of “game of chance” clearly includes any gamble “in which the outcome depends in a material degree upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that skill of the contestants may also be a factor therein”. Even if poker is legally considered a game of skill, Hawaii prohibits such gambling activities.

Realistically speaking, one must conclude that online poker is, in fact, illegal in Hawaii.

Is Hawaii working to regulate online poker?

Hawaii law makers did draft legislation that would have legalized both land-based poker tournaments and online poker operations. Unfortunately, Hawaii online poker bill, SB755 died an early death in 2011, long before the DOJ gave US states the right to regulate intrastate online gambling. Since then, several other attempts were made to legalize gambling, both on land and online, but again, they never made it very far.

Some legislators in Hawaii are determined to legalize gambling, particularly live and online poker, to help boost the economy. Hawaii may not have the largest population, but tourism is a big source of revenue for the islands. Bringing major live poker events, as well as online poker, into the mix would help fill their hotel rooms and keep cash flowing through government coffers despite the rising cost of airline tickets. Unfortunately, the majority of legislators are vehemently against the idea. Thus the realization of legal online poker in Hawaii may be a much longer road to travel than it is in many US states.