Gambling isn’t exactly a big business in North Carolina. There are precisely two legal, brick-and-mortar facilities in the entire state that are authorized to present betting activities – Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Cherokee Tribal Bingo. Both are Native American run gambling establishments, each equipped with slot machines, table games and/or poker tables, and both are located in the city of Cherokee, Swain County, North Carolina. That’s not to say that the Tar Heel State’s 9.75 million populace isn’t brimming with poker playing enthusiasts – just that there aren’t many opportunities for those card gamers to partake in their favorite pastime; at least, not in a physical setting.
There are literally thousands of online poker fans in North Carolina, and since the US gave all states the right to legalize and regulate online poker in 2011, many of them have been asking the same questions. Is it legal to play online poker in North Carolina? Does state legislation even reflect the existence of online poker? And if it’s not legal, do representatives of the Tar Heel State have any intention of regulating online poker in the near future?
Legality of Online Poker in North Carolina
By all legislative accounts, one might be left to presume that online poker simply doesn’t exist in North Carolina. While we know, in a literal sense, that such is not the case, in a statutory capacity, it might as well be. There is absolutely no mention of internet or online poker anywhere in the North Carolina General Statutes. Unlike most states, North Carolina does not, by default, prohibit any gambling activity that is not explicitly legalized. Instead, the state chose to give distinct verbiage to all forms of gambling that are and are not legal, and nowhere in the text does it mention usage of the ‘world wide web’ or any other such term relating to the legality of online poker.
We’ve taken the time to scout all the state’s enacted legislative documents as they pertain to gambling. Because the language is so illogically ambiguous and wide open to individual interpretation, the only real excerpts of importance are those that relate to penalties. However, the advice we offer is based on our educated opinion, not a professional analysis of North Carolina online poker laws. We highly recommend consulting with a local authority on gaming law.
North Carolina General Statutes – Gambling
The following text is an abridged version of the North Carolina General Statutes as they pertain to online poker. Please be aware that some text was omitted to maintain fluency, but the meaning has not been altered.
(a) Ban on Machines. – It shall be unlawful for any person to operate, allow to be operated, place into operation, or keep in that person’s possession for the purpose of operation any video gaming machine… [except those lawfully operated by tribal casinos].
(b) Definitions. – As used in this section, a video gaming machine means a slot machine… and other forms of electrical, mechanical, or computer games such as, by way of illustration and not exclusion:
(1) A video poker game or any other kind of video playing card game.
(2) A video bingo game.
(3) A video craps game.
(4) A video keno game.
(5) A video lotto game.
(6) Eight liner.
(8) A video game based on or involving the random or chance matching of different pictures, words, numbers, or symbols not dependent on the skill or dexterity of the player.
(9) Any other video game not dependent on skill or dexterity that is played while revealing a prize as the result of an entry into a sweepstakes.
For the purpose of this section, a video gaming machine is a video machine which requires deposit of any… method [of] payment, whether directly into the video gaming machine or resulting in remote activation, to activate play of any of the games listed in this subsection.
§ 14-292. Gambling
Except as provided in Chapter 18C of the General Statutes or in Part 2 of this Article [referring to lawfully authorized lottery, bingo and charitable gaming], any person or organization that operates any game of chance or any person who plays at or bets on any game of chance at which any money, property or other thing of value is bet, whether the same be in stake or not, shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. This section shall not apply to a person who plays at or bets on any lottery game being lawfully conducted in any state.
(a) …any person who engages in a continuing criminal enterprise shall be punished as a Class H felon and in addition shall be subject to the forfeiture prescribed in subsection (b) of this section.
(b) Any person who is convicted… of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise shall forfeit to the State of North Carolina:
(1) The profits obtained by the person in the enterprise, and
(2) Any of the person’s interest in, claim against, or property or contractual rights of any kind affording a source of influence over, such enterprise.
(c) For purposes of this section, a person is engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise if:
(1) The person violates any provision of this Chapter, the punishment of which is a felony; and
(2) The violation is a part of a continuing series of violations of this Chapter:
a. Which are undertaken by the person in concert with five or more other persons with respect to whom the person occupies a position of organizer, a supervisory position, or any other position of management; and
b. From which the person obtains substantial income or resources.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in North Carolina?
The question of the legality of online poker in North Carolina is one of the hardest to answer among all of the sates in the Union. Let’s start at the beginning, where types of gambling devices are prohibited. The term “video gaming machine” includes computer games, which could apply to online poker, as well as any video playing card game. That could include poker games. A more significant factor is that the definition of a video gaming machine applies when money is wagered by ‘remote’ application, which would almost certainly include depositing money onto a gambling website account. By this literature alone, a court could argue that online poker is illegal in North Carolina.
However, video gaming machine expressly applies to video-based games that are ‘not dependent on the skill or dexterity of the player’. Anyone who knows the game of poker, and has followed federal law regarding the matter, knows that skill is a dominant factor in the outcome of a poker game. North Carolina is also one of 37 states in the US known to incorporate the Dominant Factor Test, which would, by law, characterize poker as a game of skill. Since games of chance are not defined by NC law, and the skill factor is only mentioned in this one piece of legislation, clearly separating skill games form the only item that might make online poker illegal, I personally would have to conclude that online poker is not illegal in North Carolina. That’s not to say that one couldn’t be charged with illegal gambling, but any respectable attorney should be able to have the charges dropped if it were to occur.
Is North Carolina working to regulate online poker?
While Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey have already legalized and regulated online poker, and a large handful of other states are considering similar action, the Tar Heel State remains silent on the issue. There hasn’t been the slightest hint of interest in online poker regulation from North Carolina’s law makers. It’s certainly possible that the topic could arise sometime in 2014, especially if federal online poker regulation becomes a reality, but since the state has so little vested interest in gambling on the whole, I wouldn’t expect them to be spearheading any movements to launch a state-run online poker market.