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Overview Of Poker Laws In DC
The District of Columbia is pretty unique in that it is both a district and a city – Washington to be exact – and the two aren’t identical whatsoever. The city of Washington handles city-related matters, municipal laws in other words, while the Council of the District of Columbia provides what would be normally state laws, if this were a state that is.
So it’s more proper to speak of laws concerning poker and gambling to be laws of the District of Columbia – and not Washington, DC – although, it’s fairly clear that Washington is DC and vice versa.
States retain the right to legislate gambling generally, and the Council of DC serves this state law making function, so we must look to their code to decide whether playing poker is legal or not in the district.
Section 22-1704 of the DC Code does address gambling, but it does not address the act of gambling per se, only the organizing of gambling. So it’s not illegal to gamble in DC, but it’s illegal to offer gambling in the district.
So you don’t see any casinos here, no poker rooms either, although there are charity poker events that are run, but only with first getting permission to do so from the authorities. Given that licenses must be obtained to run these, there are only a limited amount of charity based poker tournaments that run here.
Is It Legal To Play Online Poker In Washington, DC?
What people need to be wondering about here isn’t whether it is legal, but whether it is illegal. Some people get confused into thinking that laws must permit, but while laws may permit, the lack of prohibition is all you need. So in other words, criminal law is essentially a code of prohibited activities, and silence here means not prohibited, which means not illegal, which means in that sense, legal.
It would clearly be illegal to operate an online poker site in DC. This is what the law here concerns itself with. Like in several other jurisdictions, the law does not seem to contemplate the possibility of one gambling while in DC but the gambling not being offered in DC.
This is exactly what happens with online gambling, the companies offering the gambling aren’t located in DC or even the United States, and even if you construed the nature of the internet to mean that they are indeed offering the gambling in DC by having players in DC connect to them, they aren’t subject to DC law in any way, so it would be a moot issue.
There is no federal law that applies here either, at least as far as online poker goes, so there’s nothing at all on the books right how that would prohibit anyone in DC from playing as much online poker as they want.
In states that do clearly prohibit it, the state of Washington for instance, no one is getting arrested for playing online poker even there, or anywhere else in the country, and the law is only meaningful to the extent it is enforced, and these ones really aren’t anyway.
Live Poker Options In DC
It is clearly illegal to offer live poker in DC, so there are no options at all, aside from the previously mentioned licensed charity poker events.
Players seeking live poker only have to make the short drive up to Baltimore though, where there are 3 different casinos that offer live poker, the Hollywood Casino Perryville with 8 poker tables, the Horseshoe Baltimore with 25 tables, and the Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills with 52 tables.
The Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in nearby Charles Town, WV, offers a further 50 tables. Overall, Washington, DC is located near a lot of live poker hot spots in and around the area. It is definitely one of the more “hidden gems” of the Northeastern poker scene.
Home Poker Games in Washington, DC
Since there is nothing in the law that would prohibit partaking in any sort of gambling, one may play in home poker games without any real concern. However, the host would at least technically be breaking the law here, as it’s against the law to “set up or keep any gaming table,” among other prohibitions, all related to the offering of gambling.
Some states specifically exempt social gambling, however, this is not the case in the District of Columbia.
The Future of Online Poker in DC
There’s no need to look toward the future really when it comes to playing online poker in DC. The city looked at regulating online poker as far back as 2010, but nothing came out of it. It’s possible they might look at this again seriously, but this is a very small market and smaller than even Delaware which turned out to be way too small to support online poker anyway, so after seeing that, no one is getting excited about this.
At some point in time, the district might seek a compact with another state, such as Nevada (which Delaware did as well). That type of arrangement might end up working for the district some day, although most poker players should really only care about getting access to online poker, and they already have plenty.
Of course, most online poker rooms don’t allow Americans period – and among the ones that do, a lot of those “offshore” sites have specifically banned players from DC.
That’s really all these efforts have come down to, bullying, plus seizing money that they can identify as gambling related that are in U.S. banks, they do not have the power of the law on their side in any sense, as these foreign companies and persons are no more subject to U.S. law than Americans are subject to the laws of foreign countries.
So the coast is clear in DC, more so than in some states where playing poker may clearly be illegal, or where there is at least some uncertainty, but there’s nothing in the law stopping you from playing at whatever poker sites will actually accept you. Unfortunately those kind of sites are few and far between currently.
So there’s no real change on the horizon, nor is any really required. These are the same lawmakers that brought about UIGEA so I doubt there’s any changing of any minds that will be going on any time soon here in DC.