Legal Poker in Hawaii

A Guide to Poker in the State of Hawaii

Hawaii Gambling Laws

In this guide to poker in Hawaii you can first find a brief overview of gambling within the State. You can then find the answer to poker’s legal status in Hawaii and the Statutes that define it. After that the limited live options for poker players are covered, followed by a look at the status of online poker in Hawaii. 

A Brief Overview of Gambling in Hawaii

Hawaii has experienced a complete ban on gambling since 1959 when the former colony officially became the 50th State.

Prior to this Hawaii had a long history of gambling, especially horse racing. At one stage the islands boasted 20 race tracks, although this sport started to die off in the 1940s and ended with the 1950s gambling restrictions.

Currently Hawaii has no State lottery and even raffles and charity events are restricted. In order to gamble in Hawaii your choices are limited to illegal underground operations or online options that exist in the grey markets, yet to be defined by a court case.

Is Poker Legal in Hawaii?

Section 71, 1220 of the Hawaiian Statute defines gambling as when someone “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”.

Some may argue that if poker can be classed as a skill game this definition could be avoided, although this argument falls short when the Statute continues to describe gambling as depending “upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that skill of the contestants may also be a factor therein”.

As poker is therefore classed as gambling it is considered illegal within Hawaii, unless it is carried out in the context of social gaming.

Where in Hawaii can you Play Live Poker

The Hawaiian Islands do not have any legal casinos or poker rooms. As a State with strong gambling roots, some people do opt to fly to California and Las Vegas in order to play. Although with a 5 hour flight being the only viable option, very few do the journey for reasons other than business or vacations.

Home games are legal within Hawaii although social gaming rules strictly prohibit anybody making a profit from the game. This includes using events as marketing tools to boost sales in establishments such as bars and restaurants, which prevents Hawaiians enjoying the free bar leagues available in most other States.

With limited options to play poker, there are regular reports of illegal raked games and card rooms opening up within the state, only to be quickly shut down by the authorities.

The Online Options for Hawaiian Players

At present there is no legislation in place that addresses online poker. As a result the assumption is the existing laws cover the activity along with live poker therefore classing it as illegal gambling. Despite this there is no record of anyone being arrested for simply playing online and the activity is enjoyed by thousands across the state via offshore sites.

The companies offering these games do so for locations outside of US jurisdiction, although they are perfectly legal and licensed in their home country. While no State or federal law explicitly restricts player from competing on these, there are laws preventing banks and payment processors supporting transactions to and from the sites, limiting deposit options.

Even though Hawaii continues to take a hard line against live gambling there has been attempts to introduce online legislation. There have been repeated bills which have been discussed which aim to “protect” Hawaiian residents and “capture revenues generated from internet gambling” with the aim of providing a legal framework for licensed sites to operate in. The possibility was raised regarding sharing poker liquidity with existing regulated states such as Nevada.

While none of these bills have yet gained any ground there appears to be the acceptance that residents do play online - along with the realization that it could benefit the State in tax revenue. Given the State laws are so strict on gambling any legislation in the short term seems unlikely although it is not something to completely dismiss in the future.

In Summary – Hawaii Poker

Strict laws prevent any form of gambling in Hawaii. The only realistic option to play live poker is in a social home game among family and friends.

Online poker in theory shares the same status as live poker, yet this has never fully been tested in a court of law. There are options to play on offshore sites which operate in uncertain legal territory, which is a risk you will have to consider for yourself should you play there.

There is no regulation on the horizon for legal poker in Hawaii.