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The District of Columbia is a separate legal jurisdiction which does have its own set of laws that function similar to state laws. In spite of it comprising of the city of Washington, which does have its own municipal government, as well as housing the federal government, DC code is neither municipal nor federal, it functions like a state code, encompassing the powers that are given to the states, including governing criminal matters.
Rather than having a state legislature, DC is governed by the Council of the District of Columbia, which has the same powers to make laws that state governments do. Congress still has the right to enact laws in DC as well, although this power has been given over to the Congress.
Looking at the DC statutes pertaining to gambling within the DC Code, there isn’t anything specifically prohibiting gambling in itself. The closest we see to anything like this is in Section 22-1704 which addresses setting up and inducing gambling.
So it’s illegal to set up anything that might be used for gambling purposes. The law states:
“Whoever shall in the District set up or keep any gaming table, or any house, vessel, or place, on land or water, for the purpose of gaming, or gambling device commonly called A B C, faro bank, E O, roulette, equality, keno, thimbles, or little joker, or any kind of gaming table or gambling device adapted, devised, and designed for the purpose of playing any game of chance for money or property…” (1)
We might think that a deck of cards would consist of a gambling device as it is a device that is used for gambling on games of chance, but if that were the case, then possession of a deck of cards in DC would be illegal, which would be rather absurd. This definition would require that the primary purpose, if not the sole purpose, of the device be limited to gambling, as is the case with the devices listed.
Are Computers Gambling Devices Though?
However, would a computer qualify as a gaming device if it is used to play poker online? Some have speculated that it might, but I think this is quite a stretch. Computers aren’t designed for this purpose, and the law does say “designed for the purpose.”
Even more notably, someone could not be charged for keeping a computer under this law, the device itself is what is relevant here, and although computers can be utilized to access the internet where games of chance are available to be played, it can be used for many other purposes as well.
The fact that something may be used for gambling is not the same thing as saying that its purpose is for gambling. If computers were indeed gambling devices then people could be arrested merely for possessing one. You could place bets on a game of rock paper scissors but this does not mean that your hands are gambling devices and therefore could be arrested for possessing hands.
Bear in mind that the act of gambling itself is not made illegal by DC law. It does not even speak to the legality of the practice. There is nothing else in the law here that could even be construed as applying to the practice of gambling. So therefore there would not appear to be anything preventing people from playing poker online in the law here.
Playing Poker In DC
DC does not have any casinos or live card rooms within its boundaries. However they were the first jurisdiction in the United States to pass a bill regulating online poker and back then it was felt that they would be the first one to offer it. (2)
In 2010, Washington City Council passed a motion to allow for online poker within its borders. They were going to bring in a company to run it and everyone was excited that regulated online poker was going to come to the United States for the first time.
All that resulted from this was just talk though, and they continued to just talk about it until the idea became scrapped in 2012 when the city’s finance committee voted 3-2 to repeal it.
As far as the future prospects of regulated online poker in the District of Columbia go, there is nothing really sitting on the table now, but it may be a matter of time before they decide to eventually give this a go.
With the relatively small population base of DC, with less than 700,000 people, this makes their market smaller than even Delaware with the approximately a million people there, and Delaware has failed to get online poker off the ground, and at best will need to enter into an interstate agreement to survive, which they already have begun proceedings on.
So the same will probably be true in DC, perhaps joining forces with a state like New Jersey to provide the liquidity they would need for online poker to flourish there. Given the typical slow pace of the DC government, where after two years of debating this they tossed the idea because they felt it wasn’t discussed enough, this may take a while to come to pass.
Online Poker In DC
As far as playing online poker if you live in DC, some online poker rooms have shied away from the district due to not wanting to mess around with a jurisdiction that also includes the federal government, but not all online poker rooms refuse play to DC residents.
Ignition Poker is one of our top recommended sites and the only one that welcomes D.C. residents pretty openly. If you have not tried out this site before, there’s no reason at all why you can’t start playing online poker right now, all you have to do is click on our link to them and register for an account, and by making your first deposit with them they will pay you up to $1000 in bonus cash just to give them a try.