More than a decade of statistics has shown us that real-money online poker players exist in all of the 50 states throughout the US. Vermont may have the second lowest population among them with just 626,011 residing in the Green Mountain State (only Wyoming is lower), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t hundreds, if not thousands of online poker enthusiasts who are wondering where the state government’s opinion lies towards playing poker over the internet.
Vermont certainly isn’t known for its vast range of gambling opportunities. In fact, if you want to place any type of wager at all in a land-based capacity, you are confined to playing the Vermont State Lottery or participating in a charitable bingo, raffle or ‘break-open’ ticket game. Absolutely all other forms of traditional gambling are prohibited. There is a fine line in which one can legally pass for playing a social poker game, but that’s it. There are no commercial casinos or tribal casinos operating in the state – at least not legally. Those who want a brick-and-mortar gambling experience are forced to travel to the nearest out of state casino to find it. There was a time in Vermont’s history when horse race betting was permitted, but those days are long gone as well. The only question left is whether Vermont online poker laws exist.
Legality of Online Poker in Vermont
When interpreting the laws of any state, there are numerous aspects that must be observed. Obviously, seeking the presence of laws that relate specifically to poker and gambling over the internet is the place to start. But when such explicit legislation does not exist – as is the case in Vermont – one must decipher the meaning of the general laws relating to gambling. What forms are illegal? Are there exemptions for games of skill, and what role can chance play in that exemption? Are gambling devices defined and prohibited in such a manner as to be construed as playing poker on a computer or mobile device?
The legality of online poker can only be determined by finding the underlying meaning in Vermont’s existing gambling legislation. With that in mind, we will attempt to conclude whether or not online poker is legal in Vermont. Please do not consider our findings to be an absolute truth. We are not professional attorneys. If you want a precise answer, we strongly recommend contacting a local authority on the subject of Vermont law.
Vermont Statutes – Gambling and Lotteries
Title 13, Chapter 51 of the Vermont Statutes deals with all things related to Gambling and Lotteries, including legalities and consequences. The following items are taken directly from that text. Note that Vermont’s Statutes are becoming somewhat archaic, last updated in December of 2010.
A person who plays at cards, dice, tables or other game for money or other valuable in a common gaming or gambling house that is maintained for lucre and gain, shall be fined not more than $200.00 or imprisoned not more than 60 days, or both.
A person who wins or loses money or other valuable thing by play or hazard at any game, or by betting on such play or hazard, or sharing in a stake wagered by others on such play or hazard, shall be fined not more than $200.00 nor less than $10.00.
A person shall be punished as provided in section 2139 of this title [fined not more than $100.00 or be imprisoned not more than six months, or both] who has in his or her possession, or under his or her control, or who permits to be placed, maintained or kept in a place of public resort or in premises occupied by him or her, or under his or her management or control a machine, apparatus or device as mentioned in section 2135 of this title […A machine or device of any kind or nature by the use or operation of which there is an element of chance for the winning or losing of money or other things of value.]
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Vermont?
What Vermont’s statues are notably lacking is a definition of the majority of its gambling related terms. There is no definition of what gambling is, what a bet or wager is, or what a gaming house is. Section 2133 is clearly titled ‘At gaming house’, and alludes to gambling at a physical location, yet without defining a ‘common gaming or gambling house’, it’s hard to say what can and cannot apply. The law states that “any person who plays at cards… for money or other valuable in a common gaming or gambling house that is maintained for lucre and gain” is subject to penalty (up to $200 fine and/or up to 60 days in jail). Traditional online poker operators collect a rake as cash games and fees for tournaments, thus they could potentially fall into that category, but only if they can be deemed a ‘gaming place’.
The previous section may be hard to interpret in regards to online poker in Vermont, but let’s look at Section 2141. “A person who wins or loses money… by play or hazard at any game… shall be fined…” $10-$200. Next, Section 2136 refers to possession of (and penalty for) having or using a “machine or device… by the use or operation of which there is an element of chance for winning or losing” anything of value. This doesn’t mean simply owning a computer is illegal, but if it is used to gamble, it certainly could be.
All in all, we have to conclude that online poker is illegal in Vermont. The ambiguity of the law actually works against players in this case, and despite the lack of specific ‘internet/online’ terminology, it could very easily be construed that online poker is illegal and punishable by law.
Is Vermont working to regulate online poker?
Vermont is one state where online poker legalization is so far on the horizon that we can’t even predict if or when it could be regulated in the state. Vermont has absolutely no interest in gaining government revenue from any form of betting outside of its State Lottery, and it would take more than surrounding states regulating and profiting from online poker to reverse that opinion.