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Tennessee Poker Laws

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Ttennessee_mountainsTennessee’s gambling laws are actually pretty simple to navigate and, unlike some states, they have made them pretty clear and easy to apply.

If we’re to look at gambling law, the first place to look is to see if a state has defined gambling or not, and Tennessee has gone to the trouble of providing that for us, as follows:

“(1) Gambling is contrary to the public policy of this state and means risking anything of value for a profit whose return is to any degree contingent on chance, or any games of chance associated with casinos, including, but not limited to, slot machines, roulette wheels and the like. For the purposes of this chapter gambling does not include:
(A) A lawful business transaction;
(B) Annual events operated for the benefit of charitable S.501(c)(3) organizations that are authorized pursuant to a two-thirds (2/3) approval of the general assembly, so long as such events are not prohibited by the state constitution; or
(C) A state lottery of the type in operation in Georgia, Kentucky, and Virginia in 2000 and authorized by amendment to the Constitution of Tennessee, if the lottery is approved by the general assembly;
(2) “Gambling bet” means anything of value risked in gambling” (1)

The pertinent parts of this section are “risking anything of value” and “to any degree contingent upon chance.” That’s pretty broad and would include just about any business deal, buying securities, buying insurance, and so on, but they managed to sum up the exclusions nicely by excluding lawful business transactions.

So now let’s turn to the section which makes gambling illegal:


The Law Against Gambling In Tennessee

“(a) A person commits an offense who knowingly engages in gambling.
(b) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section, which must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, that a person reasonably and in good faith relied upon the representations of a gambling promoter that a gambling activity was lawful because it was an authorized annual event pursuant to title 3, chapter 17. It is not an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that a person engaged in a gambling activity that was not an authorized type of lottery game pursuant to title 3, chapter 17.
(c) The offense of gambling is a Class C misdemeanor.” (2)

So this makes all gambling other than the state lottery or in conjunction with approved charitable activities illegal.

There’s also the crime of promoting gambling which we need to have a look at since in some states at least, organizing a home game may involve such a charge. Here’s how that reads:

“(a) A person commits an offense who knowingly induces or aids another to engage in gambling, and:
(1) Intends to derive or derives an economic benefit other than personal winnings from the gambling; or
(2) Participates in the gambling and has, other than by virtue of skill or luck, a lesser risk of losing or greater chance of winning than one (1) or more of the other participants.
(b) The offense of gambling promotion is a Class B misdemeanor.” (3)


How This Applies To Playing Real Money Poker

Real money poker games all involve committing the crime of gambling, and that’s perfectly clear by reading the law. This includes home poker games or social gambling, as money is wagered in a game that is to some extent dependent upon chance, and this would be the case as well with playing real money poker online.

Promoting gambling though involves one of two elements, profiting from it other than personal winnings, and cheating at the game, and if either of these elements are present then this could result in a charge of promoting gambling. I’m not sure why cheating is included here but it’s a similar crime as profiting.

As is the case generally, the focus in Tennessee is on shutting down commercial gambling. For instance in a recent case a business owner was busted for running a numbers racket which amounted to patrons placing bets on things like the closing numbers of stock indexes. (4)

The operator was charged with a felony, and one of his accomplices who was a runner was also charged, but no patrons were charged in this affair. The same was the case with another recent gambling bust in the state, this time involving a cockfighting operation, and none of the bettors were charged in this case either.


Playing Poker In Tennessee

So while laws against gambling are required to enforce anti gambling measures, they more or less exist as a staging which is required to justify charging those promoting it. This is not to say that people should ignore laws like this, but if you are considering doing something and it happens to be against the law then you do need to take the risks into account.

There is no regulated poker rooms or gaming at all available in the state of Tennessee apart from the lottery and charity run events, and poker players who wish to play for real money must either play in private games, travel to legal poker rooms in other states, or play online.

Playing online would have even less exposure than playing in a private game, as private games aren’t completely private, unlike playing online which actually is. Even if the authorities had a willingness to charge people with this it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to collect evidence for a search warrant or otherwise gather enough evidence to prosecute.

So with that in mind, many online players in Tennessee and probably a lot of live players who enjoy playing in home games continue to do so anyway. Many feel that such laws at least when aimed at players are an affront to personal liberty, and if they can exercise this liberty without really not having to worry much about being arrested, they will often choose to do so.

So if you are among this group and are considering playing online then our two top recommendations for Tennessee residents are America’s Cardroom and Carbon Poker. Both have lucrative welcome bonuses for first time depositors and are more than happy to take people from Tennessee. Click on our links to check out our reviews of these two fine poker sites.



(1) Tennessee Code, 39-17-501, Gambling, Part Definitions

(2) Tennessee Code, 39-17-502, Gambling Defenses

(3) Tennessee Code, 39-17-503, Gambling Promotion

(4) Gambling Ring Busted in Nashville

About the Author

Sadonna Price
Author Sadonna is a mom of two and an avid poker player who also enjoys online casino games. She has been part of the online gambling industry for over a decade, working as a news and blog writer. Sadonna still plays Texas hold’em in her free time while her daily job revolves around providing insights into the online gambling world using her creativity and writing skills.