Washington DC Poker Laws

Washington DC Poker Laws

Is Online Poker / Gambling Legal in Washington DC?

Washington, DC is not a state. It is the capital city of the United States of America, and is a property unto itself. It does not lie within any other state’s borders, so its gambling laws are unlike anything else you’ll find in America. To add more confusion to the mix, the government of Washington, DC appears to have made steps toward legalizing online gambling, and many expect the city to be the first to host legal and regulated online gaming, though these plans are temporarily on hold.

When D.C. recently became the first US area to pass any law that would allow its citizens to wager on online games, on the 7th of April, 2011, there was no objection from the federal government. This bill, the Lottery Modernization Act of 2010, is set to make D.C the first place in the US to make modern gaming law a part of its penal code.

Playing Poker Legally in Washington D.C.

The District of Columbia is sometimes an afterthought for people researching state gambling law, but Washington D.C. does have it's own unique set of laws for dealing with gambling and poker.
Let's start with the definition of gambling in D.C. law as it applies to poker. Section 22-1704 effectively defines gambling; poker is not mentioned. But "game of chance" is. That leads us back into the complicated discussion of whether or not poker should be considered a game of chance.

Regardless of where you fall on that (still-evolving) issue, the fact is that more states than not do consider poker to be a game of chance. As a result, situations where there's uncertainty about the matter - as is the case with Washington D.C. - should be resolved in favor of assuming poker is a game of chance for the purposes of interpreting state law.

So how can you play poker legally in D.C.? As residents know, there are no casinos or similar outlets in the District. That rules out live poker rooms.

But charitable gambling regulations in Washington D.C. do permit poker - at least in the limited form of tournaments (texas hold'em only). Organizations must hold a license issued by the District to operate such games.

We've saved the most awkward for last. Social gambling is handled in a somewhat paradoxical fashion by the law in Washington D.C.. Here's the situation as we understand it: Nothing in D.C. law makes it illegal for players to participate in home games or similar games conducted in private. But - there's always a but - it may actually be illegal to organize and conduct the game. Figure out a way to resolve that paradox and you'll be able to take part in completely legal poker games in Washington D.C..

More Washington, DC Poker Law

What exactly does the The Lottery Modernization Act of 2010 say? This law, which passed easily after the addition of a couple of amendments, basically just changes existing laws that define the term “lotteries.” The bill makes it clear that only games of chance and the game of skill called poker are legal in the District. The bill will turn Intralot, the company that runs the lottery in Washington D.C., into an online poker provider as well as a lotto game designer. Intralot is set to launch a website providing poker games to citizens of DC. In case you’re interested, this law also makes allowances for Intralot to run for-profit fantasy sports gambling as well.

The Lottery Modernization Act of 2010 was debated at length, amended to make all parties comfortable with the language, and could be the first domino to fall in a long chain of states allowing legal online poker play. But no poker sites have as of this writing opened up for District poker players,  and analysts suggest that more laws need to be written outlining the specific rules and regs of playing poker through the government’s regulated sites before anyone can play online poker through Intralot in the Dicstrict of Columbia. The idea is to create a law that complies with federal statutes but still allows DC citizens to play legal Internet poker and other card games in the future. Along the way, DC will need to pass new laws about online gambling, and in DC such laws have to go through a period of public comment, which adds a lot of time.

Learn About Other State Laws

Home Game Legality in DC

Home games are thriving in DC, with websites and forums dedicated to tracking DC’s many private poker games. There appear to be few restrictions on these games, so long as you don’t charge an entry fee or rake the pots. Your home game in DC is almost certainly legal if you follow these suggestions.

The bill that passed in 2011 in DC may not be precisely what American poker players were looking for in terms of gaming legality, but it must be seen as a step in the right direction for poker play nationwide.
Learn more about poker and gambling law in the District of Columbia here: