Wyoming is not one of those states where gambling has a rich history. It was a common activity during the days of the Wild West, but the McGill Act of 1901 outlawed gambling in Wyoming after an uprising in the late 1800’s. There was a push for legalization in the 1930’s, but it never materialized and has failed to do so ever since. At this point, the only forms of legal gambling in the Cowboy State are pari-mutuel wagering at the state’s single horse racing track, Wyoming Downs, and two tribal casinos, which offer very limited types of casino gambling. Charitable games of bingo and raffles are also on the menu, along with what the state defines as ‘social gambling’. But the legality of online poker is a question of great debate, due to its lack of explicit definition by Wyoming law.
Legality of Online Poker in Wyoming
Being that so many forms of gambling are outlawed in Wyoming, it would stand to make since that online poker would be illegal as well. However, just because something isn’t specifically legalized doesn’t always make it illegal by default. In order to determine whether online poker is illegal in Wyoming, we must thoroughly examine the laws of the state as they pertain to gambling in general. From there, we can try to decide whether or not those laws would encompass real money poker games played over the internet.
First and foremost, let me explain that we are not qualified to give legal advice, and in no way intend for our readers to take the following information as such. We merely attempt to interrupt the laws to the best of our educated ability. For a precise determination of the legalities of online poker, we always recommend contacting a local legal authority who is familiar with gambling related laws.
Wyoming Statutes – Gambling
Title 6, Chapter 7, Article 1 of the Wyoming Statutes deals with all things gambling related. The following excerpts are taken from that text, and may be annotated to maintain fluency but the meaning has not been altered.
Gain: means the direct realization of winnings;
Gambling: means risking any property for gain contingent in whole or in part upon lot, chance, the operation of a gambling device or the happening or outcome of an event, including a sporting event, over which the person taking a risk has no control, but does not include [bona fide contests of skill, speed, strength or endurance; bona fide business transactions; authorized charitable bingo game/pull tabs/raffle, social gambling, authorized pari-mutuel wagering, authorized lottery]
Gambling Device: means any device, machine, paraphernalia or equipment except an antique gambling device that is used or usable in the playing phases of any professional gambling activity, whether that activity consists of gambling between persons or gambling by a person involving the playing of a machine.
Professional Gambling: means:
(A) Aiding or inducing another to engage in gambling, with the intent to derive a profit therefrom; or
(B) Participating in gambling and having, other than by virtue of skill or luck, a lesser chance of losing or a greater chance of winning than one (1) or more of the other participants.
6-7-102. Gambling; professional gambling; penalties.
(a) A person who engages in gambling commits a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than six (6) months, a fine of not more than seven hundred fifty dollars ($750.00), or both.
(b) A person who engages in professional gambling commits a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than three (3) years, a fine of not more than three thousand dollars ($3,000.00), or both.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Wyoming?
If we look closely at the individual definitions presented above, it becomes clear that online poker is illegal in Wyoming. Let’s take a look…
The definition of a gambling device is any machine or contrivance that is “usable in the playing phases of any professional gambling activity”. It doesn’t matter that the player is not involved in professional gambling, which by definition means someone is profiting in some other way than just playing/winning the game.
It should be noted that the definition of gambling includes betting on something “over which the person taking a risk has no control”. By that statement alone, one could feasibly argue that a poker game does give each player, especially those skilled in the game, control over the outcome. However, the simple fact that professional gambling is occurring by use of the gambling device makes it illegal to participate, even as a genuine, skilled player. Any traditional, real money poker site is conducting professional gambling simply by collecting a rake at cash games and/or fees for playing tournaments. And if the professional gambling activity is not authorized by the state – remember that Wyoming does not regulate any form of poker, online or otherwise – it is illegal.
The penalty for illegal gambling is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or up to $750. The penalty for professional gambling is a felony, punishable by up to three years in jail and/or up to $3,000.
Is Wyoming working to regulate online poker?
The regulation of online gambling is the farthest thing from the minds of state lawmakers in Wyoming. The last time the headlines lit up in the Cowboy State with anything related to gambling expansion, it was back in the fall 2012 when the multi-state Powerball lottery jackpot reached a record breaking height. State lawmakers discussed whether to enter the lottery game, and surprisingly enough, they elected to do so.
Governor Matt Mead signed HB 77 into effect on March 13, 2013 and the Wyoming Lottery officially began operation on July 1. However, the restrictions were many. Wyoming would eventually present its own state-run lottery and would, more importantly, participate in multi-state games, but would prohibit the sale of scratch cards or any other instant-win games and forbid the use of video lottery terminals to sell/purchase tickets. If it’s taken the state so long to even incorporate a notably limited lottery system, they certainly can’t be expected to jump on the internet poker regulation bandwagon for many years to come.