Kentucky is one of those states where gambling enthusiasts may have apprehensions about what is and is not legal in the eyes of the law. On the one hand, Kentucky has a massive pari-mutuel gambling industry, based on Churchill Downs – the home of the infamous Kentucky Derby – and four other race courses dotting the state map. However, casino style gambling is specifically outlawed. The concept of online poker laws in Kentucky presents a lot of questions, but not nearly enough answers.
Let’s not forget that the Commonwealth of Kentucky assaulted the online gambling industry back in 2008 when Governor Steve Beshear attempted to seize control of 141 online gambling sites, including FullTiltPoker.com, leading casino software developer Microgaming.com and the number one US-facing internet casino at the time, Bodog.com, among others. Interestingly enough, Beshear was elected in part on his promise to bring casino gambling to the state, when all he’s done since was prevent casino gambling ever since.
Kentucky does permit online gambling on the ponies. Specific websites have been permitted to offer pari-mutuel betting on racing. That at least opens the door to an online betting market with the potential to expand in future years. Add to that the fact that the US DOJ reversed its previous opinion that the Wire Act prohibited all forms of online gambling in December of 2011 – giving individual states the right to regulate online poker and casino games within their borders – and Kentucky is in a great position to legalize and regulate online poker games. However, because it’s not regulated at this time, players still have to wonder if there are any Kentucky online poker laws that actually prohibit the activity.
Legality of Online Poker Kentucky
Despite the repeated actions of Beshear to prevent a land-based casino industry – one that would surely incorporate the use of live poker rooms – the Kentucky Revised Statutes are very specific in what they do and do not allow. As such, there are some explicit aspects in the law that point towards online poker being legal; or at the least, not being illegal.
In this next section, we’ll examine the gambling laws of Kentucky. We will then attempt to decipher their precise meaning in regards to the legality of online poker, and continue with a brief discussion on the possibility of online poker regulation in the Bluegrass State. Please be advised that these finding are not official, and the only way to find out for certain whether or not online poker is legal in Kentucky is to speak with a local, legal authority.
Kentucky Revised Statutes – Gambling
The following is an exact copy of excerpts from the Kentucky Revised Statutes, Chapter 528 on gambling. Note that some text has been omitted to maintain fluency of the context, without detracting from the meaning.
KRS 528.010 Definitions
Advancing Gambling Activity: A person “advances gambling activity” when, acting other than as a player, he engages in conduct that materially aids any form of gambling activity. The conduct shall include, but is not limited to, conduct directed toward the establishment of the particular game, contest, scheme, device, or activity involved; toward the acquisition or maintenance of premises, paraphernalia, equipment, or apparatus therefor; toward the solicitation or inducement of persons to participate therein; toward the actual conduct of the playing phases thereof; toward the arrangement of any of its financial or recording phases or toward any other phase of its operation. A person who gambles at a social game of chance on equal terms with other participants does not otherwise advance gambling activity by performing acts, without remuneration or fee, directed toward the arrangement or facilitation of the game as inviting persons to play, permitting the use of premises therefor and supplying equipment used therein.
Gambling: means staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device which is based upon an element of chance, [wherein] someone will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. A contest or game in which eligibility to participate is determined by chance and the ultimate winner is determined by skill shall not be considered to be gambling… Gambling shall not mean charitable gaming…
Gambling Device: means;
(a) Any so-called slot machine or any other machine or mechanical device [with] a drum or reel… which when operated may deliver, [via] an element of chance, [something of value]…
(b) Any other machine or any mechanical or other device, including but not limited to roulette wheels, gambling tables and similar devices, designed and manufactured primarily for use in connection with gambling…
[Does not include devices for pari-mutuel betting, games that deliver extra plays (i.e. pinball) or charitable gaming]
Player: means a person who engages in any form of gambling solely as a contestant or bettor, without receiving or becoming entitled to receive any profit therefrom other than personal gambling winnings…
The Kentucky Revised Statutes have a lot more literature you may wish to read (use the link provided at the top of this section to do so), but only those listed above pertain directly to Kentucky’s online poker laws.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Kentucky?
There are two major factors of import in the legislative text we’ve provided. First let’s look at ‘advancing gambling activity’, which includes profiting from gambling in any form outside of being a player. If we look at the full titles of KRS Chapter 528, the only crimes that are penalized are Promoting Gambling, Conspiracy to Promote Gambling, Possession of Gambling Device/Records and Permitting Gambling. There is no penalty imposed upon ‘players’.
Second, and perhaps even more important, is the definition of ‘gambling’. Notice it says the gamble must be “based upon an element of chance”, with no mention of skill. (Actually, skill is mentioned, but that portion pertains to contests where the eligibility to play is based on chance, so it doesn’t relate to online poker). In August of 2012, a federal judge ruled that poker is a game of skill, more so than chance, therefore cannot be defined as gambling.
Therefore, a player could legitimately argue that online poker is not a form of illegal gambling in Kentucky. But that argument should not even arise since players are not proffered any penalties for participating in outlawed forms of gambling.
Is Kentucky working to regulate online poker?
Kentucky law makers have made numerous attempts to legalize land-based casino gambling and poker rooms in the state, but they’ve been shot down at every turn. If they can’t managed to get brick-and-mortar casinos in the region, the chances that online poker will be regulated in Kentucky are very slim, at least for the time being. There is certainly a great deal of support from legislators, as well as the populace, but it could be a very long waiting game before citizens of the Bluegrass State see a regulated market for online poker.