Overview

Georgia’s poker laws are as simple as they come really.  While the law against gambling in Georgia is curious in that they only address certain types of gambling, and don’t include any provisions for other forms not described, poker is definitely included here.

Title 16, Chapter 12, Article 2 of the Georgia Code sets out the prohibitions against gambling, which consist of a misdemeanor offense.  There are three main categories of gambling that is not allowed.

The first is bets on any game or contest, the second disallows bets on political contests, which is probably included in the first section since these are bets on contests, and the third addresses bets on any game played with cards, dice, or balls.

Poker is a game played with cards of course, and cards here can be understood as determining whether the type of game is included.  For instance, poker is a game played with cards, so poker is prohibited, and this is actually stronger than just setting out that one cannot gamble with cards.

In some state laws, although it might be a stretch, there may be some uncertainty whether the laws apply to online gambling or not due to the lack of the use of a gambling device, like a deck of cards, that’s not used in online gambling.  So in this case, it’s illegal to bet not just with cards but on games played with cards, poker is normally played with cards, so betting on poker is illegal, and you can’t even split hairs with this.

All casino games are played with either cards, dice, or balls, and the lottery may be played with balls as well but it does not have to be, you can use a computer to draw the numbers instead for instance.

The anti-gambling law here is pretty comprehensive though, even though in theory some things are missed, like for instance certain forms of lotteries not involving balls, like raffles for instance.  The lottery is the only form of legal gambling here, receiving an exemption from the law.  The lottery corporation now offers coin-operated “lottery” betting as well, although they are the only people authorized to offer gambling in the state.

Is It Legal To Play Online Poker In Georgia?

Playing any poker for money is currently against the law, and there’s no reason at all why this would not include playing online poker.  The crime is the act of betting on certain games itself, it does not require the establishment to be located in Georgia.

Often times these laws focus primarily on the establishment first and then make both the establishment and betting there illegal.  For instance the law might say that it is illegal to run a poker room in the state of Georgia and both the operators and the players are subject to being charged.

Online poker rooms aren’t located in the state so if this were the case, the law would not be broken by playing at them.  However, if the state makes betting on poker itself a crime, in this case playing poker while located in Georgia for money or anything of value, well, people do this when they play online at home or on their mobile device while located in the state, so that’s clearly a crime.

So in this case we’ve answered the first part of the question, and the second part – the practical part of it – is a different story.  People do get arrested for operating live gambling parlors, and it wouldn’t be that difficult for people to arrest players as well, although this isn’t necessarily fair though, singling out whoever happens to be playing the machines when the cops swarm in, but that often does not stop them.

With home games, the matter becomes at least a little more difficult, as these games are played in private locations and people generally have to be in the know to even be aware of their existence. However, it is definitely possible, in theory, for the information to leak out and for the game to be subsequently busted.

With online poker though, it’s an entirely private affair, so this is way outside the reach of the authorities.  Merely visiting an internet address that offers online poker isn’t a crime, so even if court orders were obtained to get these records, this still wouldn’t prove that gambling took place, perhaps the person played for play money or was just there browsing.

Obtaining court orders for such things also require evidence though, and this evidence does not exist prior to one looking to seek it though these records, and these records in themselves do not present sufficient evidence, so you can easily see how online gambling is well beyond the reach of practical enforcement.

So the bottom line here is that while playing online poker for money in Georgia in private is clearly illegal, there isn’t a good way for them to catch you, and no one is being caught either.

Live Poker Options In Georgia

Georgia does not have any live poker options.  All they have is a couple of gambling cruises that set sail from Savannah and Brunswick that offer live poker, outside the reach of Georgia law.  Players can also travel to Florida, which is just next door, and there is plenty of live poker there.

Georgia is struggling enough with just getting betting on horse racing legalized, and while there have been some efforts made to do this and a bill introduced, it hasn’t gone anywhere yet.  The feeling is that at some point they will legalize this, but that day is not here yet.

This does give you an idea of just how conservative this state is toward gambling, but it wasn’t that long ago that any gambling wasn’t allowed, and it wasn’t until 1992 that they got their first legal gambling here, the Georgia Lottery, and in time when enough minds open up more, more progress may be made.

Home Poker Games in Georgia

Betting on poker games in Georgia is illegal, period.  There are no exemptions for home games, social games, or games limited to certain stakes.  Getting caught playing poker for anything of value, no matter how small, is a misdemeanor in Georgia.

This doesn’t mean that the police set up sting operations or hire secret agents to root out home games though.  There are two questions that need to be asked when considering whether or not to do something that might be illegal.  The first is whether it is illegal or not, and the second is what the risk of prosecution is and what the extent of that prosecution would be.

So in other words, how likely is it that you will get caught, and what will happen if you do?  Now poker players generally don’t want to risk a criminal record but those who have one already might not be too bothered by this, but it comes down to whether people are being arrested for this and the extent of the enforcement of the particular law.

The truth is, they do arrest people for gambling here, although they do tend to go after the operators of the gambling, like for instance in the bust of a ring of 14 people including a Deputy Sheriff for running a slot machine racket.  The machines were licensed, but only for merchandise, not cash prizes, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigations swooped in and arrested the people behind it.

They aren’t so eager to bust up gambling that they tend to look to break up home games though, their real focus is on slots and video poker machines which they have been fighting a war with over the last 15 years, so people need to take all of this into account and home games appear to be a low risk venture, although they still have the potential at least to be prosecuted.

The Future of Online Poker in Georgia

There seems to be four phases of a state’s willingness to accept certain forms of gambling.  The first stage, and one that Georgia and all but 2 states have now reached, is allowing a lottery.  This is where Georgia is stuck for now though.

The second phase, and the one that Georgia is struggling to reach, is allowing pari-mutuel betting.  The third phase is allowing land based casinos, which may just involve cardrooms like in some states like California, or it may involve the licensing of full blown casinos.

Finally, licensing and regulating online gambling, including online poker, becomes considered.  If a state doesn’t allow land based gambling though then it is far less likely to offer it online, as online gambling tends to scare legislators more due to its much easier access.

Georgia is now toying with the idea of land based gambling in addition to pari-mutuel wagering, and a bill was introduced there in 2016 to change the state’s constitution to allow for land-based casinos to be licensed.  This doesn’t mean it has enough support to be passed though and it may be several years before we ever see this happen, although the first step is to consider it, and we’re at that step now.

As for regulated online poker, that’s even further away, but in time, as this becomes more acceptable generally, and in particular, when more and more states adopt this, not just the ones seen as rogue by more conservative people, such as Nevada and New Jersey, we may one day see Georgia join the party as well.

For now though, poker players in Georgia already can play all the online poker they want at several good online poker sites that accept them, so there’s no need to wait for anything like this really.