The bad news first – despite all of the live gambling that exists in Louisiana, online gambling is expressly forbidden by law. Section 90.3 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes criminalizes “gambling by computer”.
The definition of gambling by computer is poorly worded but seems to target those who intentionally “conduct as a business” games involving risk of loss in order to realize a profit over the Internet and those who assist in conducting such games as a business. The penalties are six months in prison and a $500 fine for gambling by computer, and five years in prison and a $20,000 fine for providing any services or products, the primary purpose of which is to conducts Internet gaming as a business.
There are exceptions for securities trading and certain very narrow electronic gambling activities.
Like its counterpart statute for live gambling, the Louisiana online gambling statute appears to only target players and operators that conduct games “as a business”. That may not have been the intent of the statute, however, so players should keep a concern that enforcement authorities may try to apply the statute to the play of online poker, even though it’s probably not illegal as defined (in the same way that the play of home games in Louisiana is probably not illegal).
Offering online games, however, at best skirts the edge of the law when the computer servers are not present inside Louisiana.
In 2014 the Louisiana legislature made some overtures towards online gambling, but these were nipped in the bud when Governor Bobby Jindal came out strongly against online gambling, joining Sheldon Adelson’s anti-online gambling crusade.
If ever there was a state with confusing, dense and poorly worded gambling statutes, Louisiana is it.
The good news is that live poker is definitely legal in Louisiana. The state has land-based, riverboat and tribal casinos that all offer poker, subject to regulation and oversight by the Louisiana Gaming Control Board. As long as the poker is licensed, it’s perfectly acceptable under the law.
If the poker isn’t licensed, however, then it can only be run as a social or home game where nobody profits from the game. The Louisiana Revised Statutes §90(A) define gambling in the context of running “any game… whereby a person risks the loss of anything in order to realize a profit” as a business. By negative inference, if the required element of “a business” is not present, then the activity of playing poker or running a poker game will not run afoul of the law.