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Tennessee Legal Poker

Last Update: April 23, 2015

Online Poker

Tennessee owns a place in online poker legend for producing the winner of the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event. Chris Moneymaker, an accountant from Nashville, won his entry into that tournament by playing a series of satellite tournaments on PokerStars.

Despite that hallowed status, Tennessee doesn’t look favorably on online poker. Although there are no laws that explicitly authorize or prohibit the game, there’s also no home or social game exception in Tennessee law for poker. There is no skill v. chance debate for poker in Tennessee. That leaves online poker on shaky ground.

Nobody has ever been arrested or prosecuted for playing online poker in Tennessee, and players always have the option of trying to persuade courts that the games do not occur in Tennessee if an online poker site’s computer servers are located outside of the state.

Certainly, opening an online poker site from within the state would be expressly illegal under the law.

Live Poker

Tennessee is firmly entrenched in Southern thinking on gambling. It has comprehensive anti-gambling laws that prohibit almost all forms of gambling, including poker.

Tennessee Code Annotated §39-17-501 defines gambling to mean “risking anything of value for a profit whose return is to any degree contingent on chance…” As with neighboring Kentucky, this is a very low bar for games to meet in order to be considered gambling.

The Tennessee Attorney General opined on the legality of poker tournaments in 2005, declaring that they violate Tennessee’s anti-gambling laws. The Tennessee Attorney General noted that comments appended to the section by the state legislature enumerate poker, along with other games, as “gambling” under TCA 39-17-501.

That means that the act of playing poker is a misdemeanor in Tennessee. The promotion of poker (essentially, operating a poker business) is a felony. There is no social or home game exception to be found in Tennessee law. Home poker games are illegal in Tennessee.

The 2005 advisory opinion also addressed the “skill v. chance” debate as applied to poker, in case any poker player out there wants to try that route to justify his or her game. Although the opinion noted that the question has never been addressed by Tennessee courts, it looked to Kansas and Rhode Island court cases to determine that poker falls on the “chance” side of the ledger.

There also are no tribal casinos in Tennessee. If Tennessee poker players want to play live poker, they are required to leave the state.

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