Legal Ohio Online Poker / Gambling Laws

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Ohio Online Poker LawsRelevant State Code: 2915.01 et seq.; 3769.01 et seq.

Ohio is now home to a booming regulated gambling industry, one which is protected from competition by the fairly strict approach Ohio takes on the matter of unregulated gambling.  Defining such gambling begins with the definition of a "bet" under Ohio law:

Section 2915.01(B)
 “Bet” means the hazarding of anything of value upon the result of an event, undertaking, or contingency, but does not include a bona fide business risk.

… and continues with a definitions of "game of chance" and "scheme of chance":

Section 2915.01(D)
“Game of chance” means poker, craps, roulette, or other game in which a player gives anything of value in the hope of gain, the outcome of which is determined largely by chance, but does not include bingo.

Section 2915.01(C)
“Scheme of chance” means a slot machine, lottery, numbers game, pool conducted for profit, or other scheme in which a participant gives a valuable consideration for a chance to win a prize, but does not include bingo, a skill-based amusement machine, or a pool not conducted for profit.

Ohio law is essentially written to make all gambling illegal by default, with exceptions provided for expressly regulated gambling.

When it comes to penalties, Ohio law provides a variety of charges - primarily misdemeanors - for both players and operators.  The law regarding mere participants is a bit confusing but seems to suggest that the mere act of participating in illegal gambling can result in a first degree misdemeanor charge. 

Operators can face additional charges such as "operating a gambling house."  Charges for running illegal bingo games appear to carry the stiffest penalties - including several unique felony charges - under Ohio law.  Click here for more information on the specific penalties associated with individual charges in Ohio.

Ohio apparently does not break out gambling - related charges in their crime reporting.

What Forms of Gambling are Legal in the State of Ohio?

Just about everything except for tribal gambling is on the menu in Ohio.  There's a state - run lottery, commercial casinos and pari-mutuel betting on horse races (overseen by the Ohio State Racing Commission).

Social gambling exists in an awkward spot under Ohio law.  There is no direct exemption, but the law appears to require a game of chance to be "conducted for profit" before it triggers a gambling violation, suggesting that gambling in the home with no "house" is allowed under state law. 

As for charitable gambling, Ohio law again presents some interesting challenges for the reader.  The state directly regulates charitable bingo and provides extensive (and vague) general exceptions to gambling laws for charitable organizations (Section 2915.02(D)) under certain conditions; furthermore, there is some question regarding exactly what it means to conduct a game of chance for profit - a question that has created a significant gray area in Ohio gambling law. 

Playing Poker for Real Money - Legal in Ohio?

In a commercial casino, playing poker for real money is absolutely legal in Ohio.   

At home games (and all games not played in public), as long as absolutely no one benefits from the running of the game (no tips for dealers, even), playing poker for money appears to be legal in Ohio.  The stakes of the game are apparently not relevant.

While poker does not enjoy a specific charitable exemption like bingo, many poker clubs offering real-money operate with little apparent interference from Ohio authorities (most of time , anyhow), relying either on charitable organization status or some method of running the games that does not result in the business profiting directly from the games.

Are Online Poker Sites Legal in Ohio?

We could not find an aspect of Ohio law or any opinions from the Ohio Attorney General specifically addressing the issue of online gambling.

Such a lack does not indicate that online poker and online casinos are legal under Ohio law - only that they aren't dealt with directly.  Ohio officials would likely assert that any online gambling originating in (or involving a person in) Ohio would violate the law.

Our research did not uncover any instances of individuals who were charged with or convicted of crime related to online poker.

Ohio Gambling Laws: Fun Facts
Ohio (along with Michigan, New Hampshire and California) first legalized pari - mutuel betting in 1933. 

While commercial casinos weren't allowed in the state until 2010, Ohio has been home to the nation ' s premier manufacturer of casino seating since 1960.

Recent Online Gambling News & Developments in Ohio

Dennis Berg, director of the Ohio Lottery, indicated in January of 2012 that the state was looking into online gambling in the wake of the DOJ's Wire Act reversal.  Since that time, however, there has been no public mention of any bill or similar initiative to regulate online poker or gambling in Ohio.

The state has been engaged in an ongoing legal back - and - forth with the operators of Internet sweepstakes cafes.

Is Ohio Likely to Regulate Online Poker?

The state might have a better shot than some would think.  Recent gambling expansion went smoothly, suggesting a potential lack of public or legislative opposition to further expansion online.  Prominent Ohio businessman and casino owner Dan Gilbert recently inked a substantial partnership with the online division of Caesar ' s, meaning online poker would likely have at least two powerful proponents.      

With no bill in play, Ohio would have a bit of catching up to do before anything could be up and running.  That said, the extensive influence of Gilbert and Caesar's in the state could expedite the process, and - with a population of over 11 million - Ohio could easily become a significant player in a national online poker market.

Written by Christine Davies

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