Legal Alabama Online Poker

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Alabama Online Poker LawsRelevant state code: 13A-12-20 et seq.; 11-65-1

Alabama takes one of the strictest legal positions on gambling and play poker online legally within the state of Alabama than that of any US state.  The definition of gambling in Alabama law is exceedingly vague and could be construed to include a wide variety of activity that a normal person might not consider gambling.

Section 13A-12-20(4)
“A person engages in gambling if he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control or influence,  upon an agreement or understanding that he or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. Gambling does not include bona fide business transactions valid under the law of contracts, including but not limited to contracts for the purchase or sale at a future date of securities or commodities, and agreements to compensate for loss caused by the happening of chance, including but not limited to contracts of indemnity or guaranty and life, health or accident insurance.”

Very few types of gambling are legal in Alabama, including online poker.  Exceptions include state-licensed horse and dog racing and some limited tribal gaming.  The state has been very aggressive in recent years in both attempting to limit the types of games that tribes can offer and in seeking to increase the criminal penalties for illegal gambling.

In addition to this broad definition of gambling, the penalties for running or participating in a gambling operation are far more severe than average.  When it comes to individual gamblers, Alabama has some of the harshest penalties for those who simply participate in gambling in the entire country.  To give you a basic idea of just how harsh, consider this specific prohibition:

Ala.Code 1975 § 13A-11-9.
Any person who engages in gaming or card playing on Sunday shall be fined not less than $10.00 nor more than $100.00, and may also be imprisoned in the county jail, or sentenced to hard labor for the county, for not more than three months.

Alabama does allow limited social gaming (on days other than Sunday, we presume), but there are very strict regulations governing exactly what can be construed as social gaming.

In Alabama, any contract founded on gambling is void.  Residents may also attempt to regain any thing of value lost while gambling via civil action within 6 months of the loss.

Alabama and Poker - Is Poker Legal in Alabama?

Alabama makes no distinction between poker and other forms of gambling.  Alabama does not recognize games of skill; furthermore, court decisions in Alabama have clearly defined Texas Holdem as a game of chance.  In fact, any game that involves any element of chance - even a minor part -  would appear to be gambling under the current dominant interpretation of Alabama law.

In short: Playing poke or online poker for anything of value, or operating a poker game - potentially even possessing the equipment necessary for operating a poker game - is likely illegal in Alabama under any conditions other than private social games.  Our research did not reveal any cases of online poker players being prosecuted under Alabama state law.

Alabama Online Gambling Law - Is it Legal to Play Poker Online?

Alabama has no laws that specifically address whether online poker is legal in Alabama or illegal.  There is one aspect of Alabama law that could be broadly interpreted to include the Internet, but its authorship predates the technology by several decades and therefore applicability could certainly be contested:

§ 13A-12-50
Persons maintaining bells, wires, signals, etc. for communication with rooms or places used for gaming are guilty of a felony, punishable by one to five years imprisonment.

In addition, parts of the statute dealing with out-of-state gambling could also be construed to apply to online gambling:

Section 13A-12-29
Lottery occurring outside state no defense to prosecution under Section 13A-12-22.
It is no defense under Section 13A-12-22 relating to a lottery that the lottery itself is drawn or conducted outside Alabama and is not in violation of the laws of the jurisdiction in which it is drawn or conducted.

While no Alabama law specifically addresses the legality of online poker or gambling, there is little doubt that prosecutors would confidently assert the applicability of existing gambling law to the Internet.  In that case, online gambling - both from an operator and player perspective - could be considered illegal under the current law of Alabama.  We are unaware of any prosecutions of individual online poker players (or of operators of online poker rooms) under Alabama law. 

Alabama Online Gambling Law in the News

While their neighbors have made various forays into online gambling regulation, Alabama does not appear to be interested in any sort of regulation of online gambling.  Our research revealed that there have been no bills proposed or advanced to regulate online poker specifically or online gambling in general in the State of Alabama. 

Sources - Garrett v. State, 893 So. 2d. 700, 701 (Ala.Crim.App.,2007)

Written by Christine Davies