Overview

Illinois has a long history of riverboat gambling, and treat gambling over water separately, but we’ll start with their law against gambling on land first, and then talk about the exemptions to it.

Article 28 of the Illinois Criminal Code sets out what is considered to be gambling in the state, and it’s very comprehensive, covering everything that we would consider to be gambling normally.

This includes playing any game of chance or skill for money or anything else of value, as well as wagering upon the outcome of any game or contest.  So that covers it, there is no limitations here as far as gambling involving just betting on games of chance, and skill is mentioned specifically.

So unlike in some states, where whether poker is legal or not may depend on whether it is mainly a game of skill or chance, in Illinois, it is considered to be gambling under the law regardless.  So here, the fact that playing poker for money constitutes gambling is beyond any question.

Gambling in Illinois constitutes a Class A misdemeanor, unless the gambling is exempted from the law, from which there are actually several exemptions.  One of them of course is if the gambling is licensed and regulated, for instance with the state lottery, an approved charitable event, licensed pari-mutuel wagering and/or riverboat gambling, which is treated separately.

Riverboat gambling has been going on in Illinois since 1840, and in 1990 the state was the second in the country to license and regulate it, just after Iowa.  Initially, these riverboats were required to set sail at least once every two hours and only offer gambling while moving over water, but this requirement became relaxed and since then several quasi-land based casinos have opened up where the casino is located on a barge over water, and that is sufficient for the exemption now.

It is certainly curious that some states allow for floating casinos but are four square against ones solely on land, and in the case of Mississippi who also allows this, they seem to be happy to subject these casinos to additional peril such as what happened during Hurricane Katrina, to maintain this essentially meaningless distinction rather than letting them operate inland.

At least Illinois does allow casinos, as many states do not.  Unlike Indian casinos, these floating casinos in Illinois are fully regulated by the state, and not having the requirement that they be on Indian land has allowed them to be more numerous and accessible.

So you can play poker legally at these casinos, although playing it on land remains at this point clearly illegal.

Curiously, one of the exemptions in Illinois’ gambling law is that it is not illegal to run games where players do not purchase a stake in, and in spite of this exemption likely being made to accommodate contests, this would appear to make running freeroll poker tournaments legal as well.

Illinois also has an exemption for charities to offer several different games of chance with state approval, and the list includes the offering of poker.

Is It Legal To Play Online Poker In Illinois?

Once again, the only way you can play poker legally in Illinois is to do it at a licensed casino, over water, or at a charity event, and otherwise, the playing of poker for money is against the law.

There is no specific law prohibiting online poker, and only one state has that, the State of Washington, and some players feel that a state can make poker illegal but if they don’t make online poker illegal explicitly than it may be legal.

While there may be some instances where online poker may fall outside a state’s gambling law, or at least some uncertainty as to whether it is included, if a state makes playing poker for money illegal, this means that playing poker is illegal period, and the fact that it is played with a particular device cannot save it from inclusion, since the definition given in the law is already fully inclusive.

The law does not have to specifically address an act for it to be legal, what criminal law does is specify not what you can do but what you cannot do, although sometimes examples will be given that allow certain acts to be specified as legal.  When it clearly prohibits something, like poker, at that point we would need an exemption, for instance playing poker with a physical deck of cards is illegal but playing on a computer isn’t.

There is no such exemption that applies to online poker in Illinois, therefore it and any other form of poker played for money is a crime.

With that said though, while it may be one thing for the authorities in Illinois to bust up gambling joints or even home games, busting up online games is virtually impossible, due to the extreme difficulty of enforcing this.

The way that a state keeps its players from playing online poker is to get to the point where offshore online poker sites become afraid enough to not accept players from that state.  For instance no online poker site accepts players from the State of Washington these days, and there are other states that at least some of the U.S. friendly poker sites won’t touch anymore.

This doesn’t have anything to do with the sites being worried about breaking the law per se, but instead is a matter of the risk that they perceive for governmental interference, for instance with the enforcement of the UIGEA.  So the UIGEA doesn’t apply to foreign entitles, only to those located in the U.S., but the government can get seizure orders from the courts for money held in the United States, and it doesn’t matter whether those who transferred the money are outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law when the money gets seized.

Illinois is not on this list, at least at the present time, so players are free to play at all of the U.S. friendly online sites right now, and there are several good options available.

Live Poker Options In Illinois

In addition to being able to travel to neighboring states to play live poker, Illinois residents enjoy some options right at home as well.  There are 7 casinos in Illinois which offer live poker, and although live poker is far less popular than other casino games, especially slots, any of these 7 choices offer you a chance to sit down at a poker table and play other players for real money.

Home Poker Games in Illinois

In spite of what is one of the more liberal attitudes toward gambling in the country, Illinois does not have any provisions that allows home poker games to be played for money legally.  It’s generally not the case that home poker games are busted though, but in Illinois, they actually have done so and have arrested people running home poker games, although the players weren’t charged.

It’s not common for home games to be broken up though so the risk appears to be very low, and generally these games are hard to prosecute due to their generally being of a private nature, but one must realize that there is at least the potential for arrest playing in one.

The Future of Online Poker in Illinois

Illinois currently is working on expanding their regulation of casino and poker, including both looking to license land-based casinos, and also looking to regulate online poker as well.

Several bills have been proposed to expand gambling here, and some even made it as far as the governor’s desk, with the presiding Governor eventually using his veto poker to kill them.  There seems to be more of an appetite for land-based casinos than there is for online poker and online gambling, but this is understandable, since they already have regulated casinos here and the only distinction is that these are on rafts rather than dry land.

Online poker may take a little longer but it’s probably on the horizon as well, and Illinois is considered to be one of the states where this could indeed happen within the next 3-5 years or so, and some think that it is extremely likely that we‘ll see this by then. In the mean time, plenty of Illinois residents enjoy not only “riverboat” poker, but online poker as well, and the new regulations won’t really change things besides let the state share in some of the profits.