Legal Poker in Arizona

Chapter 33, section 13-3301 of Arizona state law defines the word gambling as “ . . . risking something of value in a contest of chance or skill.” That covers poker, and basically any other form of gambling as well. The effect of the state laws of Arizona are that all gambling is illegal in Arizona unless it falls under the umbrella of "social gambling.” Allowances for social and at-home gambling are common across the United States, Arizona included.

What Does Arizona Consider Social Gambling? Does That Make Online Poker Legal in Arizona?

By Arizona law, social gambling means any form of gambling that is not being run for profit or as part of a business. It also means that all the players in the game are competing against each other on totally equal terms and only against each other. That leaves the door open for home poker games, as long as (and this is spelled out in the state’s laws) the benefit of the gambling taking place is just the amount of money being wagered and nothing else (meaning no rake), as long as all of the players in your home game are 18 years or older, and as long as all the players of the game have an equal risk and potential gain.

The Law Related to Online Poker in Arizona

Mixed news for poker players in Arizona who are hoping to participate in legal real-money poker games. Arizona state law allows for some legal forms of real-money poker, but also outlaws games that aren't specifically permitted by the law.

Let's start with the games that you can clearly play in Arizona while remaining in compliance with the law. There's a fair amount of regulated gambling in the state, which results in a decent number of options for poker players at state-approved locations like Talking Stick Resort and Casino Del Sol.

The law in Arizona also carves out an exception for so-called "social" poker games in Section 13-3304(B). There are a few caveats attached to the exception - see Section 13-3301(7) for the complete definition of social gambling. The short version: No one can make any money from the game as a business, you have to be 21 or over and there can be no "house" player.

So, what does that leave as prohibited poker in the state of Arizona? Pretty much everything else. While online gambling involves legal questions that haven't completely been ironed out, state law in Arizona is written in a way that

  1. Definitively defines poker as a form of gambling (see Section 13-3301(4) for the definition of gambling)
  2. Explicitly criminalizes all gambling that isn't exempted in Section 13-3302 (including amusement, social, regulated and certain types of gambling at state fairs.

Remember, to be considered gambling poker must involve something of value. Free-play games are not illegal even if unapproved, as they are not considered gambling once the risk is removed.

Like the majority of states in America with regulated gambling, Arizona makes all gambling illegal as the default. This places poker players participating in unapproved games in a dicey position legally - at least in a theoretical sense.

Learn About Other State Laws

More Arizona Poker Law

The law in the Grand Canyon State is very clear about the legality of poker games within state borders. For example, the law books say specifically that if the host of a poker game requires any sort of fees to play poker (meaning “buy-ins or re-buys”), the game is illegal. Other conditions for poker games that make them illicit:

  1. If a game’s host requires any kind of cover charge, including those that are called “donations” by the host. In other words, if any players have to pay to play, the game isn’t legal.
  2. If a game’s host takes any kind of rake or percentage of the money wagered or won during the game.
  3. If a game’s host requires any sort of minimum purchase; apparently some home games in the past charged for food or drinks as a way of earning profit from the game. This makes the game illegal.
  4. If the host provides any sort of gaming equipment for which a fee is charged, the game is illegal. This became part of gambling law when some home games charged so-called rental fees for chairs, gambling chips, poker tables, or any other game accessory.

The Arizona Department of Gaming goes so far as to mention illegal forms of poker in the state, saying that poker tournaments, poker games, and Texas Hold’em games are  “ . . . some of the most common forms of illegal or potentially illegal gambling in Arizona.”

Arizona Casino Poker

Arizona has a thriving tribal casino industry. Unfortunately for poker players, no casino in Arizona is allowed to host live poker, only casino-style “three-card poker” and video poker machines. Basically, if you want to play poker in Arizona, it needs to be at a home game that follows the strict guidelines set down by state law. Since state law regarding games of poker in tribal casinos is still murky, you may find live poker games at some casinos and not others. Harrah’s casinos in Arizona, for example, only offer three-card or video poker as of this writing. But news of poker rooms, both legal and illegal, is easy to find through Google searches.

Poker law in Arizona is strict in some instances and vague in others. If you want to play at a home game, make sure that the game is following all of the above laws. If you find a poker room in Arizona offering No-Limit poker, that appears to be specifically illegal, though limit games are sometimes considered legal and sometimes not. If you want more information on the legality of playing poker in Arizona, either in home games or casinos, contact a lawyer or professional familiar with the complexities of Arizona gaming law.