Legal Online Poker Sites in New Jersey

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New Jersey  Online Poker LawsRelevant state code: 2C:37-1 et seq.; 5:5-1 et seq.

Home to Atlantic City, the Las Vegas of the East Coast, New Jersey has been a haven for gamblers since the state cut the ribbon on the first regulated casino inthe eastern US way back in 1978.  Like virtually all states with a strong commercial casino industry, New Jersey takes a very strict approach to illegal gambling.  State law offers the following definition of gambling:

Section 2C:37-1(b)
"Gambling" means staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under the actor's control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.

While that definition might seem to leave some space for skill games, the statutory definition of "contest of chance" reveals a much higher threshold that must be met for an activity to escape the gambling classification :

Section 2C:37-1(a)
"Contest of chance" means any contest, game, pool, gaming scheme or gaming device in which the outcome depends in a material degree upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that skill of the contestants or some other persons may also be a factor therein.

As we've discussed at length in our analysis of other states (such as Missouri), "Material degree" is a fuzzy term that most interpret to mean something like "any significant role, even if the role is not dominant."  The state constitution of New Jersey essentially renders illegal any gambling not regulated by the state, so any wagering on any activity that meets the above definitions and isn't regulated is de facto illegal in New Jersey.

Penalties: Players get off pretty lightly in New Jersey, as long as you can prove you were just a participant and not in any way involved in advancing or promoting the game.  Being a mere player is an affirmative defense to some of the most serious illegal gambling charges in New Jersey, and our (non-professional) reading of the law suggests that - theoretically - as a result individual players are subject to little, if any, legal exposure in New Jersey.

Operators, on the other hand, would be wise to steer clear of the state.  New Jersey has some of the most severe penalties in the US for those who operate, advance or profit from illegal gambling activities.  Significant - and mandatory - jail time awaits those convicted, as do fines that could easily stretch into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, or dollars.

New Jersey reported 107 arrests related to gambling offenses in 2010 (the last year for which statistics were available).  The state does not distinguish between individual charges in the reporting, so we're unable to know how many of those arrests were players and how many were operators (or operator-related).

What Forms of Gambling are Considered Legal in New Jersey?

A pretty fair amount.  The state is home to several commercial casinos and racetracks.  There is a state lottery, but no tribal gambling options.

What about social gambling in New Jersey?  Two parts of New Jersey law seem to provide direct cover to those engaged in your typical home poker game.  The first is the definition of "player," which includes the following language:

Section 2C:37-1(b)
 A person who gambles at a social game of chance on equal terms with the other participants therein does not thereby render material assistance to the establishment, conduct or operation of such game if he performs, without fee or remuneration, acts directed toward the arrangement or facilitation of the game, such as inviting persons to play, permitting the use of premises therefor or supplying cards or other equipment used therein.

Given that being a player is an affirmative defense to most gambling charges, this section would seem to provide an exception for social gambling.  There's also an exception for the charge of "possession of a gambling device" that reads:

Section 2C:37-7(b)
possession of not more than one gambling device other than a slot machine for social use within the home shall not be an offense under this section

Those two aspects of the law would appear to give the green light to your typical home game, assuming no rake is taken and that no one is otherwise profiting from the operation of the game.

Charitable gambling is a significant part of New Jersey's gambling sector.  Regulated by the NJ Department of Consumer Affairs, permissible forms of charitable gambling include bingo, casino nights and raffles.

Can I Play Poker Legally in New Jersey?

In a regulated commercial casino or charitable event, playing poker for real money is fine. 

Home games where no one profits from running the game are also apparently in line with New Jersey law thanks to the exceptions for social gambling (which do not appear concerned with the stakes involved in the game, only that no one takes a cut).

As New Jersey law focuses primarily on operators and not players, playing poker for real money in other contexts appears to be technically illegal but enforced by no charge in New Jersey.

Are Online Poker Sites and Online Casinos Legal in New Jersey?

While there is no law on the books directly mentioning the subject of online gambling, the State of New Jersey contends that all forms of online gambling are illegal.

Operators can easily find aspects of New Jersey law that would make running an online casino or poker site quite problematic.  Players, on the other hand, appear to have little worry when it comes to placing bets online or playing at a poker site from New Jersey.  It would be a stretch for such individuals to be charged under current New Jersey state law, and even the NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement implies that the risks for players are financial and not criminal.

New Jersey Gambling Laws: Fun Facts
The state was once home to the ill-fated Trump's World Fair, now an empty parking lot.

Betting on horse races that have already happened is legal in some situations under New Jersey law (Section 5:8-51(b)).

Recent Online Gambling Developments in New Jersey

State Senator Ray Lesniak has been pushing online gambling regulation legislation for a few years.  His efforts are finally appearing to bear fruit, as a bill to regulate online gambling cleared a critical committee in late June.

You can read the full text of the bill here.

Recent Online Gambling Developments in New Jersey

The New Jersey Legislature passed a bill to regulate various forms of online gambling in late 2012, and Gov. Chris Christie signed that bill into law in February of 2013. This development came after years of failed attempts to bring regulated online gambling to the state. 

While the bill was passed into law, there are still a number of steps before New Jersey casinos will go live with online gambling. State regulators need to develop the specifics of how online gambling will be deployed, operators will need to apply for licenses, and so on. In short, the bill becoming law represents important progress, but work still remains.
PokerStars is in extended negotiations with the state to acquire a license that would allow the online poker company to take over the financially-troubled Atlantic Club Casino.

What's Next for Regulated / Legal Online Poker in New Jersey?

Online poker occupies an odd space in New Jersey's regulatory picture. The bill that brought regulated online gambling to New Jersey did not specifically mention poker as an approved game, so it will be up to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement to introduce specific regulations for online poker. New Jersey is certainly large enough to support a few online poker sites, but there is still a reasonable chance that poker will be pushed to the back burner in favor of simpler casino games like slots and roulette.

Written by Christine Davies

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