Kentucky Poker Laws

A Guide to Poker in the State of Kentucky

Kentucky Gambling Laws

The Kentucky Derby is one of the most prestigious gambling events in the world. Unfortunately for residents of Kentucky, horse racing is one of the few pass-times they are allowed to wager on. Poker players are left with few options that can be classed as clearly legal. The good news is the laws do not aim to charge the players themselves.

In this guide to poker in Kentucky you can first find a brief overview of gambling in the State. Then the question of poker’s legality within Kentucky is addressed along with options for live players. To finish up the current status of online poker is covered with thoughts of the future.

A Brief Overview of Gambling in Kentucky

This State’s long and glorious history of horse racing dates back to the 1900s and this remained the only form of legal gambling in Kentucky for many years. It was only in 1988 when the State lottery was given the green light that residents had another option. This was joined a few years later by bingo, raffles and other charity gambling with money going to good causes.

Throughout this time casinos and poker games remained illegal, with the only options being social games. There have been several attempts to introduce brick and mortar casinos and card rooms into Kentucky - although these have all been faced with stiff conservative opposition on ‘moral grounds’.

Is Poker Legal in Kentucky?

While there are forms of gambling legal in Kentucky, these are primarily pari-mutuel betting on horse racing and lotteries. You can also find some charity events. Casinos and card-rooms where you can find legal poker games are not permitted.

Poker is classed as gambling within Kentucky. According to the Statute, Section 528:010(3):

“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, in accord with an agreement or understanding that someone will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.”

By referring to an “element of chance” there is no real argument that can remove poker from this classification, as even the most determined in the ‘skill game’ camp must agree there is an element of chance to poker.

Social games of poker are permitted providing certain conditions are met. Players are protected from prosecution, while the organizer can face felony charges with the possibility of imprisonment.

Options for Live Poker in Kentucky

With no casinos or card rooms permitted. Options for playing live poker in Kentucky are limited. You can find different free to enter leagues throughout the State, where prizes can be awarded by the organizers. These range from small cash prizes you can find in the WPT Amateur League to WSOP main event seats given away by the Kentucky Blue Poker Crew.

Home games appear to be tolerated in Kentucky, although there are strict controls in place. While no one is allowed to profit from a rake or charge to play, like many States, Kentucky laws do not permit anyone to promote gambling. This is not just through obvious methods, which can be avoided just be spreading word of the game among friends, it can also apply if players win or lose more than $500 in a night. Therefore it is best to keep your games quiet and small.

How Kentucky Regards Online Poker

While no State law specifically names online poker it is believed it covered by the current Statute technically making it illegal. 

Governor Steve Beshear publicly announced in 2008 that online poker and casinos were “leeches” and “unfairly undermined Kentucky’s horse racing industry” as the State attempted to seize 141 domain names they felt related to illegal gambling. This action eventually failed in courts although it does demonstrate the strong feeling against online gambling in this State.

Despite this many players within the State continue to play on offshore sites. These poker rooms, based mainly on Caribbean islands run perfectly legitimate businesses in their own countries and argue they are allowed to provide games to US residents because of international free trade treaties. While it may be tough to get money online due to federal laws, there is nothing legally preventing residents playing on these sites.

Although it seems unlikely that online poker will be regulated any time soon in Kentucky, as more and more horse racing betting moves online there is a chance that online gambling may be allowed sooner than some would think. Some speculate this may have to wait until land based casinos are regulated first.

In Summary – Kentucky Poker

While Kentucky is not the most poker friendly State by any stretch there are opportunities to enjoy leagues and home games as a player, without the fear of arrest. The same applies to online poker, which despite the harsh views of some leading politicians has seen no one get into trouble for merely playing on a site.

There are some hopes that online poker may get legalized in the future, although there are no current plans to go ahead with anything and any changes seem a long way off.