Virginia isn’t what we would call a friendly state for online poker players. It’s not that Virginia is opposed to the idea of padding its coffers with tax dollars from gambling. After all, the State Lottery has been running full force since it sold the very first Virginia lottery ticket on September 20, 1988. Pari-mutuel horse racing is another huge business in the state. In fact, many historians believe the very first pari-mutuel American Quarter Horse Races were held in Virginia’s Henrico County, VA (formerly Enrico County) as early as 1674. Charitable games, mostly bingo and raffles, are also permitted, as are social poker games that meet the limited guidelines of the law, but all other forms of wagering in Virginia are considered to be ‘illegal gambling’.
Where does that leave online poker players? The laws of Virginia do not explicitly criminalize internet gambling, which, in some states, leaves the doors wide open for online poker players to enjoy their favorite pastime for real money without any threat of consequence. However, the legalities of online poker in Virginia can only be determined by examining the specifics of what the state deems to be illegal gambling.
Legality of Online Poker in Virginia
When deciphering gambling laws that do not explicitly address playing poker over the internet, there are several key factors one must account for. The definitions of terms like gambling and gambling device are paramount, as is the degree of chance that must play a part to be considered gambling. The federal government has deemed poker a game of skill, with limited elements of chance. Penalties for illegal gambling must also be assessed.
We do not claim to be authorities on the subject of legal interpretation. We will attempt to determine whether online poker is legal in Virginia, but our results should not be taken as definitive answers. For that, we always recommend contacting a local legal authority on the matter. Also bear in mind that Virginia’s gambling laws are governed not just by the state, but county by county, therefore it is essential that you contact someone in your county of residence for the most accurate and reliable response.
Code of Virginia – Gambling
The following quotations have been taken directly from the Code of Virginia as they may pertain to the legalities of online poker. Please note that some text may be notably annotated or abridged in order to maintain fluency without altering the meaning.
Illegal Gambling: means the making, placing or receipt of any bet or wager in the Commonwealth of money or other thing of value, made in exchange for a chance to win a prize, stake or other consideration or thing of value, dependent upon the result of any game, contest or any other event the outcome of which is uncertain or a matter of chance, whether such game, contest or event occurs or is to occur inside or outside the limits of the Commonwealth.
Gambling Device: includes:
a. Any device, machine, paraphernalia, equipment, or other thing, including books, records and other papers, which are actually used in an illegal gambling operation or activity, and
b. Any [thing]… which operates, either completely automatically or with the aid of some physical act by the player or operator, in such a manner that, depending upon elements of chance, it may eject something of value or determine the prize or other thing of value to which the player is entitled [unless the prize is just more chances to play]
Except as otherwise provided in this article, any person who illegally gambles or engages in interstate gambling as defined in § 18.2-325 shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor [§ 18.2-11; a fine of not more than $500]…
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Virginia?
There are several more laws that relate to gambling and could potentially target online gaming as well, and you can read them for yourself in Title 18.2, Chapter 8 of the Code of Virginia if you wish, but the items listed above offer more than enough information to determine that online poker is illegal in Vermont. Let’s break down the definition of illegal gambling to make it easier to understand.
Illegal gambling is “making… any bet… in the Commonwealth… the outcome of which is uncertain or a matter of chance… upon the result of any game… inside or outside the limits of the Commonwealth.”
An online poker game that is accessed from within the state, but based on a server outside the state, would clearly fall into that category. In addition, a computer or mobile device could be interpreted as a gambling device. The penalty for illegal gambling (from a player standpoint) is a Class 3 Misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $500.
Is Virginia working to regulate online poker?
Virginia hasn’t even managed to get a bill passed to allow for land-based casino gambling in the state – although not for lack of trying – thus the topic of online poker regulation is far from the lips of state lawmakers. In 2012, a bill to allow limited casino gambling was proposed, but that was later shot down. Another bill was scripted to open a casino to generate money specifically geared towards the transportation department, which would decrease the cost of tolls for citizens. That bill made it past the first phase of assembly votes in January, but was thrown out just two weeks later. Most recently, Senator Louise Lucas introduced yet another bill to create a Casino Gambling Commission of Virginia, which would in turn develop a system for licensing casino operators, but the chances of that bill passing are slim to none, with much more sway on the latter.
The chances of Virginia regulating online poker are, well… Senator Richard L. Salslaw said it best when he told the Washington Post (in reference to land-based casinos, but the statement certainly applies here as well) “49 states will have it before we get it.” Saslaw hesitated, then quipped, “Maybe 48”, referring to Utah as being the only state likely to hold out longer than Virginia.