If you live in Ohio and you enjoy playing poker, you’re among a very large group of likeminded people. Poker cash games and tournaments are a common leisure activity in this state, and there are plenty of opportunities to play the game in brick-and-mortar casinos across the state. It’s so popular, in fact, that there are often wait times of several hours just to get a seat. But for as many live poker fans as there are in Ohio, there are a lot more who prefer to play online poker from the comfort of their own homes.
There are quite a few online poker sites that continue to accept Ohio’s residents, but they are all offshore operators, meaning they aren’t regulated in the United States. Many offshore operators are perfectly honest, upright business entities, but what most online poker players in Ohio ultimately want is a state regulated market. Until that happens, they would also like to know whether there are any explicit online poker laws in Ohio that prohibit them from participating at offshore sites.
Legality of Online Poker in Ohio
The laws of Ohio aren’t exactly outdated, but the definitions for gambling and related offenses are quite broad, meaning the legalities of online poker are essentially open to the interpretation of the reader. What the average person takes away from reading these laws could be entirely different from what a legal authority understands them to mean. We don’t claim to be masters of legal jargon, but we do try to decipher the online poker laws of each state to the best of our ability. We strongly recommend contacting a licensed attorney in the state for a more definitive answer as to the legalities of online poker.
With that said, let’s examine some of Ohio’s gambling laws to see how they might relate to online poker. Later, we’ll also take a moment to review the possibility of online poker regulation in the Buckeye State.
Ohio Revised Code – Gambling
The following text is quoted from the Ohio Revised Code, Title 29, Chapter 2915; Gambling. Note that some context has been omitted or abridged as it does not apply to online poker laws.
Bet: means the hazarding of anything of value upon the result of an event, undertaking, or contingency, but does not include a bona fide business risk.
Game of Chance: means poker, craps, roulette, or other game in which a player gives anything of value in the hope of gain, the outcome of which is determined largely by chance, but does not include bingo. [Note that a Game of Chance is not the same as a Scheme of Chance, wherein no element of skill is involved.]
Gambling Device: means any of the following:
(1) A book, totalizer, or other equipment for recording bets;
(2) A ticket, token, or other device representing a chance, share, or interest in a scheme of chance or evidencing a bet;
(3) A deck of cards, dice, gaming table, roulette wheel, slot machine, or other apparatus designed for use in connection with a game of chance;
(4) Any equipment, device, apparatus, or paraphernalia specially designed for gambling purposes;
(5) Bingo supplies sold or otherwise provided, or used, in violation of this chapter.
Game of Chance Conducted for Profit: means any game of chance designed to produce income for the person who conducts or operates the game of chance, but does not include bingo.
(A) No person shall do any of the following:
(1) Engage in bookmaking…
(2) Establish, promote, or operate or knowingly engage in… any game of chance conducted for profit…
(3) Knowingly procure, transmit, exchange, or engage in conduct that facilitates [anything] in connection with… any game of chance conducted for profit…
(4) Engage in betting or in playing any scheme or game of chance as a substantial source of income or livelihood;
(7) With purpose to violate [any part] of this section, acquire, possess, control, or operate any gambling device.
(B) … For purposes of division (A)(2) of this section, a person facilitates a game of chance conducted for profit or a scheme of chance if the person in any way knowingly aids in the conduct or operation of any such game or scheme, including, without limitation, playing any such game or scheme.
(C) This section does not prohibit conduct in connection with gambling expressly permitted by law [state authorized casinos, racinos, tribal casinos, state-run lottery, charitable bingo/raflles.]
(K) Whoever violates this section is guilty of gambling, a misdemeanor of the first degree. If the offender previously has been convicted of any gambling offense, gambling is a felony of the fifth degree.
If a person, by playing a game, or by a wager, loses to another, money or other thing of value, and pays or delivers it or a part thereof, to the winner thereof, such person losing and paying or delivering, within six months after such loss and payment or delivery, may sue for and recover such money or thing of value or part thereof, from the winner thereof, with costs of suit.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Ohio?
Although there is no mention of online or internet poker, there are some key elements we must look at. First of all, poker is categorized as a game of chance, and the skill factor is negligible in regards to being legal or illegal. Secondly, games of chance conducted for profit include any poker game wherein the host (not necessarily the player) makes a profit. By default, this would include any live or online poker site (not authorized by the state) that collects a rake at cash tables or a fee (in addition to a buy-in) to enter a tournament. Now look at 2915.02 (A) (3), it is illegal to knowingly engage in any game of chance conducted for profit. Section 2915.02 (B) reiterates that law.
For this reason, it could easily be construed that online poker is illegal in Ohio. However, there is no penalty listed for this violation. The nearest thing to it is a minor misdemeanor for committing public gaming, which requires conduct of illegal gambling in a public place. Finally, note Chapter 3763.02, wherein a player who loses money by betting at an illegal gambling operation has 6 months to sue the person/operator they lost that money to for a full refund, minus court costs/attorney fees.
Is Ohio working to regulate online poker?
When the DOJ reversed its opinion of online gambling, several states took immediate notice. While the Buckeye State didn’t jump on the legislative bandwagon right away, Ohio considered online gambling in January of 2012 when Interim director of the Ohio Lottery Commission, Dennis Berg said, “We’re exploring this topic.” Nothing has come of it yet, but the state has taken great strides in expanding its land-based gambling market. The fact that officials are so keen on generating additional revenue from gambling ventures could mean that online poker regulation is on the horizon in Ohio.