Alabama does not have a law that deals specifically with online poker. However, the live version of the game is clearly illegal under state law. One would assume that state authorities would take a similarly dim view of online poker. Alabama has tried to advance anti-online gambling measures in the past, but none have ever been enacted.
It’s unlikely – by not impossible – that a player would ever be prosecuted for playing online poker from home in Alabama as long as the site on which he or she plays is not based in the state.
For all intents and purposes, live poker is prohibited in Alabama.
The state criminal code defines gambling in the usual manner, with elements of consideration, chance and prize. It further goes on to define “contest of chance” at Alabama Criminal Code §13A-12-20 using the “material degree” test, a lower standard than the Dominant Factor test. That means that in Alabama, a game like poker will be considered a contest of chance if the outcome depends “in a material degree” upon chance, notwithstanding that skill may be involved.
This issue was taken up by the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals in the 2007 case, Garrett v. State. Garrett ran a business that held weekly Texas Hold’em tournaments in which all the money was paid back to the players. The tournaments were designed to attract traffic to the business on slow nights.
In upholding Garrett’s conviction under Alabama’s anti-gambling statutes, the CCA noted that “Texas Hold’em poker is fundamentally a game of chance. … A player’s skill does not change the fundamental nature of the game.”
Once a game is a contest of chance, it becomes gambling. Once it is gambling, as poker is in Alabama, then the game is unlawful unless specifically authorized by law. Alabama law does not specifically authorize poker.
Alabama is one of the few states to criminalize the act of gambling is well as the business and promotion of it. Thus there is no legal live poker to be found in the state, at casinos, at card room, or at tribal gambling halls.
The one saving grace is that there is a home game exception in Alabama law at Section 13A-12-21(b). However, the burden of proof is on the accused in such a situation to prove that the game was, in fact, merely a social game in a private place. That means, if Alabama enforcement authorities really wanted to get persnickety, they could bust a game up and let the players battle it out in court.