The Rules Of The Game: How To Legally Host A Poker Game Or A Casino Party

People like games, but gaming can be illegal. If you're running a Saturday night poker game at your house or thinking about hosting a casino party on New Year's Eve, you want to make sure that you're playing by all the rules before you cut open that first deck of cards. Here are a few things to consider.

Why is gambling illegal?

Gambling is often considered a moral and social vice that contributes to everything from health problems to child neglect. Anti-gambling laws are primarily designed to keep public citizens from becoming victims of organized gambling operations that are willing to take their money.

Illegal gambling, depending on the circumstances, can result in a misdemeanor charge with little more than a fine to a felony charge with jail time.

What are the laws on private gambling?

Gambling laws, however, are constantly in a state of flux. Every state has specific gambling statutes on the books, and most of them allow some form of either "private" or "social" gambling (the wording varies by state), but you have to check your own state's laws to be aware of the exact limitations. There are some rules, however, that are fairly common among the states:

  • If you're the host, you can't collect a rake fee, which is a percentage of the pot. In fact, you can't profit in any way from the game, except through your personal winnings.
  • The setting has to be private, usually among friends who are known to each other outside of the game. This prevents people from organizing "invitation only" games or clubs that target people with a desire to gamble and deep pockets.
  • You can't advertise the game to the public.
  • You can't charge an admission fee or a "seat" fee for a place at the table, not even to just cover the house expenses like beer or pizza.
  • You can't operate a house bank or credit. Every player must have his or her own money in the game.
  • Every player has to (theoretically) have an equal chance of winning. No player can be given an advantage over another.

In addition, you want to check to see if hosting a game (or a specific type of game) is illegal. For example, in Ohio, it's okay to have a poker game running during your party or on weekends, but you can't have a craps table or a roulette wheel.

What about casino parties?

Casino parties have become quite popular over the last few years as fundraisers and private entertainment. The organizers stage the area as if it were a casino and operate various tables where guests can amuse themselves and play for casino chips. 

Casino parties, when organized by professionals, are usually carefully within the laws. Again, the specific types of games that they can have can be limited by law. However, there's usually no actual gambling involved at casino parties. Players use casino chips in their games, but they don't have any actual value. Prizes are awarded by "Lady Luck" alone, through random drawings.

If you decide to hold a casino party on your own, make sure that you carefully understand all the rules of your state before you get started. The same goes if you decide to start a little friendly game of poker between friends. For more information on the laws in your area, consider consulting an attorney.

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