Hawaii Legal Poker

Last Update: March 20, 2015

Online poker

Online poker legislation made it past some early committee votes in 2013, but bogged down in the House Finance Committee, where legislators from both political parties showed little interest in advancing the bill. Since then the state has not taken up the issue.

Hawaii has considered legislation directly addressing the legality of online poker but it has never passed anything into law. Most of the statutes deal with gambling generally (as opposed to online gambling) and are directed at operators, but HS §712-1223 makes participating in any gambling activity a misdemeanor. The usual question of whether the gambling activity takes place in Hawaii or in the jurisdiction of the computer server’s would seem to apply in Hawaii.

The commentary to Section 712-1223 stresses that the point of the law is “to obtain a clearer statement that gambling in all its aspects is prohibited except in the limited case of ‘social gambling’.”

Despite being seen as a very liberal state, Hawaii is currently one of two states in the US (the other being Utah) without gambling of any kind, which would make passing online gambling quite difficult.

Live Poker

Hawaii may seem like an idyllic vacation paradise to most, but the Aloha State has some of the strictest gambling laws in the nation. There are no regulated forms of gambling in Hawaii –no casinos, no tribal gambing operations, no tracks, no lottery and no poker rooms.

Hawaii Statutes 712-1220 appears to provide very minimal leeway for arguing that poker is not “gambling” and therefore does not fall under Hawaii’s restrictions. The statute defines “gambling” as risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance. Contest of chance is further defined to include any game “in which the outcome depends upon a material degree upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that skill of the contestants may also be a factor”.

Whether poker does or doesn’t depend “upon a material degree upon an element of chance” is undecided in Hawaii jurisprudence. Given the state’s conservative views on gambling, however, it’s easy to theorize that a judge would find that poker is a contest of chance.

The only form of gambling that is permitted in Hawaii is “social gambling”, defined by Hawaii Statues §712-1231 to mean that players compete equally with each other, that no person profits from the game and that no corporation benefits from it (from, by example, serving food or drink), that it is not played in public or in a business, and that all players are at least 18 years old.

A home poker game conducted in accordance with these restrictions would be legal under Hawaii law.

There is currently a push to change Hawaii’s gambling laws, but it’s unclear if lawmakers at the state house are ready to take this monumental step.

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