Are At-Home Poker Games Legal?


Are At-Home Poker Games Legal?


A home poker game setup in a cozy living room.

Are At-Home Poker Games Legal?


A home poker game setup in a cozy living room.

Although the law on gambling is unequivocal in some states (like Utah, where even raffles are forbidden), there are still many gray areas when it comes to the legality of home poker games. Over the years, in some states, poker has been defined in a way that places it firmly within the realm of legal activity, while in yet other states, it’s outlawed in the same way and for the same reasons as any other form of gambling. Ultimately, it’s up to you to check the relevant statutes of the state you live in before calling a game together. 

The Five Ws

When looking for answers to the question, “Are home poker games legal?” much depends on who’s participating in a poker game, where the game will take place, when it will take place, as well as the terms of engagement. By following the rules of the five Ws, you could keep your games safe from the long arm of the law. 


The “when” generally refers to the day of the week, not the time of day. For example, in Alabama, all forms of betting and gaming, including playing cards and dominoes, are strictly forbidden on a Sunday. The state also bans hunting on Sundays, which is just one of the weird and arbitrary laws at work in the heart of Dixie.


In many cases, home games preclude professional poker players from participating, so keep it amateur and avoid all professional poker tournaments. And don’t forget that even where home gambling is legal, there may be a minimum age limit, so wait until the kids have gone to bed.


A home poker tournament setting with a timer and trophy.

The “what” speaks to the definition of poker, which is a game of skill in which wins aren’t derived from random outcomes. The latter constitutes gambling or betting and, therefore, in some states, falls under illegal activity. However, poker does not, since it is based on skill. So, when is a game of poker not a game of poker? When it’s a strange variation, is the answer. Playing some of the unique and more obscure formats of the game might just keep you on the right side of the law.


If you’re looking to profit from your home poker game, you may fall foul of the why-laws and by-laws of your state. To be legal in many states, there should be no gain other than the wins from a good hand (or a great bluff). No fee for joining the game can be charged, nor can there be any house bias, or a rake. In casinos, given that the house doesn’t have a stake in a game of poker (unlike blackjack and roulette), the rake is the casino’s source of revenue that is levied as a percentage of the game. This means you can be playing poker for money as long as the game is what is legally known as “unbanked.” In many states, banked games, even those played at home, are illegal.


In many states, to be 100% legal home games should be just that and not be played in public places and often not even on commercial premises. The good news is that there are some great casino tables and casino chip packages on the market to give your sitting room that authentic casino vibe.


Advertising a home poker game elevates it to something different from a friends’ night in, and public posters, pamphlets, and other forms of advertising are not a good idea if you want to stay on the right side of the law. Rather, disseminate information via WhatsApp groups or by word of mouth if you’re hosting a game.

Respect Your Neighbors

If your friendly home poker game might be borderline legal where you are, it’s highly recommended that you respect your neighbors and don’t allow your friends to park across driveways or to wake the entire street up as they leave. Otherwise, you may find the police knocking at your door and pulling you up for various infractions.

Private Versus Public or Social Poker

In some jurisdictions, there’s a legal difference between private and public (or social) games of poker that determine whether gambling at home is legal or not. If a state’s objective in banning gambling is to protect the public at large, then using the terminology “public” or “social” may make your game illegal. However, if it’s a private poker game open only to a select few, you should be fine.

Stay Legal, Stay Safe

A casual and friendly home poker game environment with comfortable seating and light snacks.

The only surefire way of knowing if your home poker game meets all the criteria that truly make it a home game is to be aware of the gambling laws of the USA as they apply to your state. Sometimes, those laws may seem arbitrary, but that doesn’t change the fact that they must be applied. If you decide that a home game is too much trouble and may not be legal, don’t forget that the laws relating to online poker and online gambling laws in general also differ from one state to another. 

Play On Borgata Online

If you’ve established that it’s legal to gamble online from where you are, you can be safe in the knowledge that all gambling with Borgata Online is on a secure site that respects your privacy. Borgata Online offers a number of poker variations that you can still play from home, as well as other casino table games and a wide range of slots. Simply register and pick a table.