Hawaii Poker Laws

Hawaii-PicHawaii is one of only two states in the United States, with the other one being Utah, that makes gambling illegal period, other than social gambling. They don’t have any poker rooms, they don’t have any casinos, they don’t have pari mutuel betting, they don’t even have a lottery. In other words there is no regulated gambling in Hawaii whatsoever.

So the law in Hawaii that applies to gambling applies in all cases, save for the defense of social gambling, and other than that there are no provisions outside of it. So let’s take a look at the law there to see what it indeed does include, first starting with the law itself:

“(1) A person commits the offense of gambling if the person knowingly advances or participates in any gambling activity.
(2) Gambling is a misdemeanor.” (1)

So now we know that participating in gambling activity is a crime in Hawaii, so the next step is to see what defines gambling in this state:

“(4) “Gambling”. A person engages in gambling if he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. Gambling does not include bona fide business transactions valid under the law of contracts, including but not limited to contracts for the purchase or sale at a future date of securities or commodities, and agreements to compensate for loss caused by the happening of chance, including but not limited to contracts of indemnity or guaranty and life, health, or accident insurance.” (2)

So in terms of this applying to poker playing, this in itself does leave the door open a bit at least, even though the outcome of poker bets aren’t completely under one’s control, but they are to some degree at least, which could be seen as having them not qualify as gambling under this definition.

However, this door is closed by the definition provided for “contest of chance,” as follows:

(3) “”Contest of chance” means any contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device in which the outcome depends in a material degree upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that skill of the contestants may also be a factor therein.” (3)

So there we have it, poker does indeed depend to a material degree on chance, where material degree here is a matter of whether this element of chance materially affects the outcome of bets, which it clearly does, and they also mention that skill playing a factor as well does not save it. This section actually seems to be written specifically to include poker in fact. So poker is a contest of chance, contests of chance constitute gambling, and gambling is prohibited.


What About Social Gambling Though?

Not all forms of gambling are prohibited in Hawaii though, and the sole exception is what is termed social gambling. Social gambling is provided as a defense to a charge of gambling, which will be successful if the following conditions are met:

“(1) Players compete on equal terms with each other; and
(2) No player receives, or becomes entitled to receive, anything of value or any profit, directly or indirectly, other than the player’s personal gambling winnings; and
(3) No other person, corporation, unincorporated association, or entity receives or becomes entitled to receive, anything of value or any profit, directly or indirectly, from any source, including but not limited to permitting the use of premises, supplying refreshments, food, drinks, service, lodging or entertainment; and
(4) It is not conducted or played in or at a hotel, motel, bar, nightclub, cocktail lounge, restaurant, massage parlor, billiard parlor, or any business establishment of any kind, public parks, public buildings, public beaches, school grounds, churches or any other public area; and
(5) None of the players is below the age of majority; and
(6) The gambling activity is not bookmaking.” (4)

So this would permit home games being played for money as long as no one is charging for the play, and as long as the gambling occurs in a private setting, and not in a business establishment or public place.

What about online poker though? Well this often does occur in a private setting, one’s home, but in all cases the poker site would be collecting something of value for offering the online play, so this would clearly disqualify this as a defense, and the onus is on the defendant to prove all of these conditions exist, and they would not be able to do that.


Can You Still Play Online Poker In Hawaii Though?

In spite of it being against the law to play online poker in Hawaii, Hawaii certainly isn’t the only state to make online poker playing illegal, and there are several other sites where it is also clearly against the law to play for real money at an online poker site.

However, as there has yet to be any convictions for this anywhere in the United States, and it would also be a very difficult crime to enforce anyway, and due to the lack of will to prosecute, there are a great many players who are more than willing to play online poker in spite of what the law may say as long as there are poker rooms willing to accept players from their state.

So Hawaiians are fortunate enough to have several online poker rooms more than willing to accept them, and this list includes our personal favorite, Ignition Poker. They are fresh off a great acquisition of the Bovada Poker software and have since rebranded as Ignition.

For being a new site, they have a great amount of traffic and if you haven’t played here yet you need to get your account already (they give you a free $5 chip to use in the casino, too!) – you will NOT regret it, trust me.

Ignition Poker



(1) Hawaii Statutes, Section 712-1223: Gambling

(2) Hawaii Statutes, Section 712-1220: Definitions Of Terms In This Part

(3) ibid.

(4) Hawaii Statutes, Section 712-1231: Social Gambling, Definition and Specific Conditions, Alternative Defense

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