Poker Laws in Alabama
Important AL Notes
- Players in AL can play legally at offshore poker rooms
- No activity in the state legislature in regards to iGaming
- Poker is not legal in AL, even in tribal casinos
- Home poker games are legal in the state, however
- Conservatives in AL are pushing to ban existing casinos
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Online poker (operation of) is deemed illegal in Alabama and so is that of live poker games. It is not deemed illegal under Federal laws because the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act does not specifically mention playing poker online is illegal. Therefore, it is legal for an Alabama citizen to play at poker sites that operate in a country outside of the US.
Future Outlook of Online Poker in Alabama – Estimated date of legalization: 2020-2021
The following graph tracks our expected legislation of online poker in Alabama on a state law level. It is currently already legal on a Federal level. This graph monitors the current rise or fall of expected legalization.
In 2016, Alabama’s Attorney General announced that Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS)...
Alabama is considered one of the most gambling-unfriendly states in the US,...
There has been no move to legalize online poker in Alabama. At the same time, the legislature has not taken any steps to specifically declare online poker illegal or to enforce existing laws against offshore online poker sites operating in the state. Based on the present situation it seems that legalized online poker will come to Alabama through the Federal route or compacts with other states to allow player pool sharing.
Current Gambling Laws in Alabama
Gambling is covered under Article 2 (Gambling Offenses) of Chapter 12 (Offenses Against Public Health and Morals) of the Criminal Code (Title 13A) of the Code of Alabama [A]. Section 20 [B] provides the definitions related to gambling. The material definitions are as follows:
“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.”
Advance gambling activity involves aiding any form of gambling activity, primarily including the creation or establishment of the particular game, contest, scheme, device or activity involved. A contest of chance is any contest, game, 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 may also be a factor therein”. Other definitions include gambling device, lottery, pari-mutuel wagering and player.
Under Section 13A-12-21 (a), “A person commits the crime of simple gambling if he knowingly advances or profits from unlawful gambling activity as a player.” Clause (b) of this section excludes social gambling in a private place. Clause (c) states that simple gambling is a Class C misdemeanor. Subsequent sections criminalize promoting gambling as a Class A misdemeanor, possession of gambling records as a Class A misdemeanor and possession of a gambling device as a Class A misdemeanor. Section 13A-12-31 exempts authorized pari- mutuel betting from the provisions of unlawful gambling. Coin-operated devices for bona fide amusement purposes which, by application of some skill, only entitle the player to replay the game or device at no additional cost are exempted under certain conditions as are crane game machines.
Section 8-1-150 of the Code of Alabama states that contracts founded upon gambling considerations are void and permits recovery of money paid or things of value delivered as gambling losses.
History of Gambling in Alabama
Land Based Poker in Alabama
Home poker games are legal in Alabama as long as they meet the guidelines of social gambling in a private place. The onus of proof of social gambling is on the players.
Though restricted charity gambling is permitted in Alabama, it does not include charity poker tournaments, which are therefore illegal.
Live poker has always been deemed illegal in Alabama because it involves chance, though the statutes do not specifically mention this activity by name. The legality was put to the test in 2007 in a case known as Garrett V. State. Garrett was running a weekly Texas Hold’em poker tournament in which money was paid to players. The objective of the tournament was to bring customers to the business. The court ruled, “Texas Hold’em poker is fundamentally a game of chance. … A player’s skill does not change the fundamental nature of the game.”
Live poker is only legal in home games. Even the few casinos in Alabama do not offer facilities for poker cash games or tournaments.
Gambling Laws in Alabama
Alabama is one of the worst states in America for gamblers. There are few casinos and they do not offer any of the regular table games like poker, roulette and blackjack. They only offer permitted electronic gaming machines. Other than that pari-mutuel wagering and charitable bingo are permitted. Gambling interests including the Poarch Creek Indians are pushing for gambling expansion with legalization of regular casino games. The conservatives in the legislature are strongly in favor of shutting down existing facilities [C] citing illegal operations and social costs of gambling.
VictoryLand in Shorter is Alabama’s only private casino owned by Milton McGregor which opened in 2009. It offers only electronic bingo machines. In 2010, it was closed when Governor Bob Riley threatened to raid the premises on allegations of illegal gambling facilities. The allegations leveled were that many of the bingo machines were actually slot machines, which are illegal in Alabama. In December 2012, VictoryLand reopened to a rousing reception from the public. However, in February 2013, the casino closed [D] again following a raid by the attorney general’s office in which hundreds of gambling machines were seized. After a long court battle, VictoryLand casino reopened once again on September 13, 2016.
Alabama has three tribal casinos under Indian Gaming laws operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The details of these casinos are available here [E]. These casinos also offer only allowed electronic gaming facilities. Though they are in an expansion mode, they are facing a lawsuit [F] that seeks to close them but that will likely not happen.
In 2015, there was a vote on a gambling expansion bill that would have allowed four commercial casinos but it did not advance.
Through a 1980 amendment to the state constitution, counties in Alabama can conduct bingo for charitable purposes. The bingo has to be conducted by the charity itself and overseen by the Sheriff of each County or the Chief of Police of a city. Jefferson County was the first to allow bingo halls in 1980. 18 such amendments have since been passed.
In 1971, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that pari-mutuel wagering at dog and horse tracks is constitutional. The reason given was that, unlike a lottery, a dog or horse race is not a pure game of chance. It depends on the skill of the animal. Thereafter, four greyhound racing tracks opened in Mobile, Birmingham, Shorter and Eutaw.
In Alabama the oversight of pari-mutuel wagering is conducted by local racing commissions that have been constituted under Chapter 65 of Title 11 of the Code of Alabama. The details of the Alabama Racing Commissions are available here [G]. The first racing commission was established in 1971 in Mobile County. Greyhound racing began there in August 1973. In 1983, Greene and Macon Counties also established racing commissions. The Birmingham Racing Commission was organized in 1984. The Birmingham Race Track [H] discontinued live horse racing in 1992. It offers live greyhound racing and simulcast greyhound and horse racing from all over the country. Greene County’s racing commission discontinued live greyhound racing in 1998 and now conducts only simulcast racing.
Alabama is one of the few American states that do not have a state run lottery. In 2009, the Democratic nominee for the Governor contested on the plank of legalizing a state lottery and lost. According to a report [I], Representative Craig Ford has continued to push for legislation to pass a state lottery the past two years but nothing has passed. Presently, Alabama citizens buy lottery tickets from neighboring states. Under Section 13A-12-29, the fact that the lottery is drawn or conducted outside Alabama, and is not in violation of the laws of the jurisdiction in which it’s drawn or conducted, is not a valid defense against the illegality of lotteries in Alabama.
Author: Joseph Falchetti (twitter)
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