Tennessee Poker Laws

A Guide to Poker in the State of Tennessee

Tennessee Gambling Laws

In this guide to poker in Tennessee you can first find a quick overview of the gambling environment. Then the laws regarding poker are looked at in detail. Following this the live options for poker players is covered and to finish up online poker is examined.

A Brief Overview of Gambling in Tennessee

Tennessee placed a ban on all forms of betting in 1906 and these have, for the best part, remained in place since. The first exception came in 2003 when a referendum voted in favor of a State lottery, which now helps to fund educational programs. The only other form of gambling is charity bingo and lottery events which gained legalization in 2010.

Despite the success of Chris Moneymaker, an amateur Tennessee player who won the World Series Of Poker Main Event and launched the poker boom, Tennessee’s Attorney General published his opinion that poker tournaments are illegal only two years later.

In 2006 Tennessee’s Senator Bill Frist was one of the main names behind the UIEGA, the federal bill which now prevents many financial transactions to online sites. This was snuck through congress by getting attached to an unrelated Port Security Bill which was guaranteed to pass. The law has seen all the major online poker sites now leave the US.

Is Poker Legal in Tennessee?

Section 39-17-501 of the Statue provides a clear explanation as to what gambling is:

“Gambling is contrary to the public policy of this state and means risking anything of value for a profit whose return is to any degree contingent on chance, or any games of chance associated with casinos, including, but not limited to, slot machines, roulette wheels and the like.”

As the wording is broad it is guaranteed to cover poker and any other game that are played with an element of chance. With no commercial or tribal casinos and no social gaming carve-out, players have no legal opportunities to play for real money.

Penalties apply to both players and operators if they are caught engaging in illegal gambling. Players can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor and face fines up to $50, meanwhile operators can face a Class E felony with fines up to $10,000. Despite these harsh rules many illegal games remain in operation and are broken up each year.

Is There Any Live Poker in Tennessee?

The only legal way to play live poker in Tennessee is if you do not play for money. This makes even home games illegal and there is a history of such games being raided by the police.

Free to enter bar leagues, such as the WPT Amateur and Elite Poker Leagues, have proved to be very popular. These operate across a number of bars and encourage players to compete regularly, progress up the leader boards and take part in a grand-final. The winners can win cash prizes, entries to major tournaments outside of Tennessee and even vacations.

These leagues are allowed to run because the players do not pay anything in and all the prizes are donated by the sponsors. The bars where they are held benefit from extra sales and either donate to the prizes or pay a fee to the league to have the tournament played there.

The Status of Online Poker in Tennessee

There is no regulation specifically naming online poker in Tennessee. It is assumed that the current laws are sufficient to cover these games although no one has openly stated this. There have been no arrests of players.

With no clear legal opinion many players enjoy competing on the offshore sites. These are mostly based in the Caribbean where they operate legally and argue they can provide games to the US due to international free trade laws.

In Summary – Tennessee Poker

While Tennessee has had its share of poker heroes and villains, this State is now fairly dry as far as the game is concerned. The only place you can enjoy games where there is actually something to compete for is in the free to enter bar leagues.

Meanwhile though online poker is assumed to be illegal there is no official stance on this and little enforcement. As a result many residents enjoy the offshore sites every day. Given the overall view towards poker and gambling it seems unlikely regulation will come to this State anytime soon.

Penalties for illegal gambling


Opinion on poker tournaments