Indiana Bill Would Decriminalize Poker, Casino Games Played In People’s Homes

A piece of legislation has hit the table in Indiana that would decriminalize “private low stakes card games.”

It would exempt certain private games from “unlawful gambling” under Indiana law. What exactly is a private low stakes card game? The bill has a very specific definition for such gaming activity, which would make it apply to both poker home games and even games such as blackjack.

Private low stakes card game means gambling to which all of the following apply:

  • The gambling is in the form of a card game played with physical cards.
  • If the card game is a banking game, each player takes turns acting as the banker.
  • No person receives a fixed share or percentage of the stakes (in other words, no rake)
  • The gambling does not involve the use of an electronic gaming device, an electronic version of a card game, or the internet.
  • The gambling occurs in a private residence and is not open to the public.
  • Not more than 12 players participate.
  • The amount of an individual wager may not exceed $20.
  • The gambling occurs at a particular residence not more than four times per calendar month.

The legislation, Senate Bill No. 434, doesn’t involve regulating this type of gaming.

Existing law hard to enforce

Indiana gambling law is blunt and straightforward.

“A person who knowingly or intentionally engages in gambling commits unlawful gambling,” states the statute. So, technically even if a rake-free, private poker game with your friends is illegal in Indiana. The heavy-handed law obviously is not enforced.

Poker is considered a game of chance — so like blackjack, it’s illegal.

“[G]ames like poker and euchre are considered gambling if played for money,” stated the Indiana Gaming Commission in a regulatory FAQ on unlawful gambling.

Only “bona fide games of skill” can be played for money, under current law. Examples include chess, scramble, trivia, and so on. You can only wager, or risk, money on your own performance, however.

Under the current law, playing in a private poker game could result in a misdemeanor charge.

Issues with SB 434

Some of the criteria for a “private low stakes card game” would also be challenging at best to enforce.

For example, limiting bets to $20 would be impossible for poker players. Even the most friendly card games with the super low stakes would feature bets greater than $20. That’s without a doubt happening right now. Additionally, “individual wager” is not defined. That could be interpreted to mean the buy-in for a poker home game. That’s obviously also impossible to enforce.

The requirement that the game not take place at a “particular residence” more than four times in a month is also unenforceable. Most people don’t play poker home games nearly that often, however.

With that said, the spirit of the decriminalization provisions are commendable.

The bill is set to have a hearing on Jan. 29 in the Senate’s Public Policy Committee.