It’s safe to say that Kentucky authorities are not big fans of online poker.
In 2008 the state, under the direction of the governor, attempted to seize 141 domains names connected to online gambling, including domain names like PokerStars.com and FullTiltPoker.com. State representatives claimed that the domain names were “illegal gambling devices” under state law.
The issue went back and forth in Kentucky courts for several years without much resolution.
Regardless, the position of Kentucky authorities is clear: they consider online poker to be illegal in Kentucky, regardless of where servers are located. The lone bright spot for Kentucky online poker players is that, because none of the anti-gambling statutes on the books target players, they have nothing to fear from playing online poker.
In February of 2014 the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled against the state, ruling that gambling sites are not equivalent to gambling devices.
Apart from certain exceptions for charity, live poker is not licensed, regulated or legal in Kentucky. There are no tribal casinos to offer it, no state-regulated casinos at all and card rooms are not permitted. With the exception of horse racing, the state takes a very conservative view of gambling.
The definition of gambling in the Kentucky Revised Statutes requires something of value to be staked upon a game “which is based upon an element of chance”, an incredibly low chance threshold as measured against most other states in the country. This is not a Dominant Factor test or even a Material Degree test. If an “element” of chance is present, the game is gambling. Poker certainly falls into that category.
Many analyses confuse the issue of skill in Kentucky because of a provision in the definition of gambling that provides that “A contest or game in which eligibility to participate is determined by chance and the ultimate winner is determined by skill shall not be considered to be gambling.” Poker tournaments and cash games, however, do not determine their eligible participants (that is, their players) by chance. People choose to play or they don’t. Thus this provision is inapplicable to poker as we think of it.
The remainder of the gambling provisions in the Kentucky law are aimed at promoters and operators of games. All the criminal offenses under the law only to people “acting other than as a player” who advance or profit from gambling activity. Thus while the game of poker itself is illegal, there is no statute that criminalizes the play of it – only the business of it.
Given that analysis, home games in Kentucky are legal as long as no person profits from the game. In fact, there is an explicit “social game” exception from the definition of “advancing gambling activity” in KRS 528.010 that provides that inviting people to play, permitting the use of premises for a game and supplying equipment used in the game are all OK under Kentucky law for social and home games. The only other requirement to make the game kosher is that nobody profit from running it.