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Rhode Island’s gambling laws are fairly brief compared to most other states. There are no definitions to navigate and interpret, at least none pertinent to whether it is legal to gamble or not.
Let’s start by having a look at “forms of gambling prohibited”:
“ 11-19-1 Forms of Gambling Prohibited. – Every person who shall, directly or indirectly, set up, put forth, carry on, promote, or draw, publicly or privately, any lottery, chance, game, or device of any nature or kind whatsoever, or by whatsoever name it may be called, for the purpose of exposing, setting for sale or disposing of any money, houses, lands, merchandise, or articles of value, or shall sell or expose to sale lottery policies, purporting to be governed by the drawing of any public or private lottery, or shall sign or endorse any book, document, or paper whatsoever, for the purpose of enabling others to sell, or expose to sale, lottery policies, except as authorized in this chapter and in title 41 and chapters 61 and 61.2 of title 42, shall be deemed guilty of a felony and shall be imprisoned not exceeding two (2) years or be fined not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000).” (1)
This is certainly pretty wordy, even as far as laws go, and does also suffer from a distinct lack of clarity, and it’s important to flesh this out to understand what the law actually says about gambling.
Once again, gambling isn’t defined in the statutes, and the word isn’t even mentioned in the text of this law either. It’s hard to even be sure what’s prohibited here, it appears that it is prohibiting the setting up of games in conjunction with the disposition of items of value including money, in other words to gamble, but it is the fact that the section is entitled forms of gambling prohibited that leads us to this conclusion.
Anyways, for the purposes of interpretation we’ll assume this is the case, in other words, you cannot set up games, and poker is a game so that would be included, where money is exchanged between the parties based upon the outcome of the game. That’s the broadest interpretation we can give this and it’s probably the intention here but this is badly in need of revision.
Other Gambling Laws In Rhode Island
There are two other laws that may apply to poker playing within Rhode Island’s statutes. The first one is called “frequenting gambling place”:
“Every person who shall frequent any gambling house or place where gaming is practiced or carried on, not in the performance of official duty and not being the landlord of that place entering to view the premises, shall be imprisoned not exceeding thirty (30) days.” (2)
This seemingly refers to the first section we’ve already looked at as far as what would constitute gambling, but it is fairly safe to say that gambling here is any form of what would normally be considered gambling.
This does not seem to require that the place be exclusively or primarily set up to conduct gambling, as it does specify any place where gaming is practiced or carried on.
You do not have to be engaged in gambling to be in violation of this section, merely being present is enough. This is made even more harsh by the fact that the only penalty prescribed is imprisonment, there are no provisions for fines or other penalties.
The other section that may apply to poker is “inducing others to visit gambling place.”:
“Every person who shall, on any pretext whatsoever, invite, entice, persuade, or induce any other person to visit any house, room, or other place kept for the purpose of gambling, with the intent that that other person shall at that place engage in gambling or playing at any game of chance, for money or other valuable consideration, shall be fined not less than five hundred dollars ($500) and be imprisoned one year.” (3)
How This May All Apply To Poker in R.I.
I wanted to wait to comment on all of this as far as it’s applicability to poker until we looked at all three of these sections because they do work together. The first one basically states that you can’t run a gambling operation. There is no prohibition at all as far as the act of gambling goes, and in fact none of the laws involve the act of gambling at all, they all deal with other elements.
Does this mean that it is legal to gamble in Rhode Island and only illegal to run gambling operations, as many believe? Not when we look at these other two sections, and together they form a very big net capturing all gambling in the state, including playing.
You don’t even have to gamble to run afoul of the law here, you merely have to be present at any location where gambling is occurring. The law prohibits being in any place where gambling is going on, and any place means any place, a back alley, your home, any place.
If you invite people to such games you face an even stiffer penalty, a minimum $500 fine plus a year in jail.
If you play online, well you are present at a location where gambling is taking place, and this law is so broad that even your sister in the next bed could be charged, and perhaps even your parents downstairs watching television depending on how place is to be understood.
Now having laws like this and enforcing them this way are two different matters of course, but Rhode Island’s gambling laws are clearly in a class by themselves in terms of their breadth.
There is no legal poker in this state at all either.
Looking at the way the law is enforced here, high school basketball coach Paul Rizzo was convicted of several counts of running a criminal gambling business by letting an associate use his apartment to run a sports betting operation. He pled no contest and even though he did not receive any money out of the deal he faced fairly heavy fines and a lengthy prison sentence although the sentence was suspended. (4)
In spite of this, there have not ever been any convictions in Rhode Island for people playing poker online and the focus clearly is on offshore gambling operations. Many Rhode Island players choose to play poker online and if you so choose to do so as well we do have really only ONE recommendation for you, which is listed below.
The Best Online Poker Site for Rhode Island Residents? Ignition Poker.