Virginia Legal Poker

Last Update: March 20, 2015

Online Poker

Virginia’s illegal gambling law is unique from that of most other states, in that the law defines illegal gambling to include wagering upon a game “whether such game, contest or event occurs or is to occur inside or outside” of Virginia.

That means, that if poker isn’t a skill game under Virginia law (which, as detailed above, is an unsettled question of law), then playing online poker could fall within the definition of illegal gambling.

However there is no law that directly bans the playing of online poker and no player has ever been arrested for doing so despite that fact that, like other Southern states, Virginia penalizes the act of gambling in addition to the operation of a gambling business.

At this time, the best bet for the presumptive legality of poker is for the Virginia courts to declare poker a skill game in the Pitsilides case.

Live Poker

As the law is currently applied in Virginia, live poker is not legal. The question that’s been burning the last few years is whether the law is being properly applied.

The basic definition of illegal gambling in Virginia is couched in terms of chance. The outcome of the game being wagered upon must be uncertain or a matter of chance.

That opens the door to exceptions for skill-based games. In fact, such an exception is codified into the law at Virginia Code §18.2-333. The question nobody is sure how to answer is whether poker is a “contest of skill between men” as required by that part of the law.

For a number of years poker halls were quietly tolerated in certain Virginia towns like Portsmouth and Virginia Beach as being within the skill-based exception. Then in 2010 the Portsmouth DA said he would start enforcing the illegal gambling law against the poker halls. They all closed, but one owner named Charles Daniels challenged the application of the law in court.

The PPA got involved. Greg Raymer provided expert testimony. The case went all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court. And in March 2013, the court ruled… that because the poker hall owner had never actually been charged, he didn’t have standing to challenge the application of the law. The case was dismissed on procedural grounds without ever getting to the merits of the argument.

That means poker players are back to Square One. However, a Virginia Beach restaurant owner, George Pitsilides, was arrested in 2011 and charged with violating the anti-gambling law for running a poker hall. He was indicted in 2012 but the case was put on hold while the Virginia Supreme Court resolved the Daniels case.

Pitsilides will soon have his day in court, and live poker in Virginia will get another bite at the apple.

In the meantime, there are no tribal casinos in the state. For the moment, then, all forms of public, regulated brick-and-mortar poker are outlawed in Virginia.

Home games, at least, are permissible under the law. The definition of “illegal gambling” at Virginia Code §18.2-334 provides an exception for games of chance conducted in a private residence, but only so long as the residence isn’t “commonly used” for that activity and no one profits from hosting the game.

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