Legal Poker and Gambling in Missouri

Missouri Gambling / Poker Laws

Legal Gambling / Poker Laws in Missouri

While Missouri is viewed by many as a state with a socially conservative culture, it's also a state where plenty of gamblers are sitting among the pious and proper.

Missouri is home to a whopping dozen riverboat casinos, most of which offer large, modern poker rooms. And those casinos generated billions of revenue in 2012, with 2013 already on pace to match or exceed those levels. But we're not here to dissect Missouri's gambling industry - we're here to talk about Missouri law and what it has to say about poker and gambling.

Laws Controlling Gambling in Missouri

The key definitions employed by Missouri gambling law are found in Section 572.010 of the state code. Here you'll find the definitions for "gambling" (4), "advancing gambling activity" (1) and "player" (8), along with other terms that form the building blocks of Missouri's approach to gambling.

You should review these definitions first in order to understand the remainder of Missouri state law regarding gambling - statutory definitions offer differ significantly from connotative meanings.

Our synopsis of Missouri gambling law: It does not permit any gambling that isn't licensed by the state, except for not-for-profit private gambling. Players and operators can both face charges stemming from illegal gambling. Players who make a living from gambling are subject to additional charges. Even more charges can result from having a "gambling device" in your possession; per Missouri law, this might refer to items as innocuous as playing cards or chips for play-money poker. Tribal and commercial gambling can both be found in Missouri, along with a lottery.

Because poker players participating in illegal games can potentially face very serious penalties in Missouri, it is very important that you seek legal advice if you both:

  1. Participate in poker games that may be illegal under Missouri law and;
  2. Qualify as a "professional player" as described by subsection (9) of Missouri's statutory definitions related to gambling (572.010). The threshold: If 20% or more of your income is drawn from gambling at least one year out of the preceding five years, you qualify.

You could face up to a felony charge - a potentially life-changing event - in Missouri if you meet both of the above conditions. We cannot overstress the importance of knowing the law and appreciating the true risk of an activity in this case, and only a lawyer is going to be able to provide you with qualified information regarding the true nature of that risk.

Is There Legal Poker in Missouri?

Yes. The best choice for poker players in Missouri are the aforementioned riverboats, where poker rooms of all shapes and sizes can be found. Two quick examples: Harrah's in St. Louis hosts an annual WSOP Circuit event and the Heartland Poker Tour calls the River City Casino home once a year. Riverboats are licensed and regulated by the state, and players can expect safe, fair games at any of the state's dozen riverboat casinos with poker rooms.

The other clear exception in Missouri law for real-money poker: home poker games, which we'll discuss in greater detail below.

Learn About Other State Laws

Missouri Law on Private Gambling / Home Poker Games

With social gambling legal under Missouri law, poker players are also free to take part in home games with real-money betting. Remember - it's very important to not take a rake from the game, or to engage in any other behavior that resembles charging players to take part in the game. This includes tipping a dealer or cover charges ostensibly for food and entertainment.

Doing any of the above, or anything similar, risks violating Missouri's conditions for social gambling (located at 572.010, subsection 8). But, if you heed that rule - and if everyone in the game has an actual social relationship (one imagines friends of friends is sufficient) - then it's "shuffle up and deal" for your home game under Missouri law.

Missouri Law and Online Poker

Missouri lawmakers have yet to take up the issue of online gambling. Current law regarding unlicensed gambling could possibly apply to gambling over the Internet, but - as far as we know - the question has not been tested by an arrest or charge in Missouri related to gambling or playing poker online.

The state is home to major national casino operators (like Caesars) that are pushing for regulated online gambling and poker, so the legal situation for online poker will likely develop rapidly over the next year or two. But to date, we have seen a complete lack of legislative proposals to bring regulated online gambling to the Show Me state.