West Virginia’s gambling laws do not have a section with any definitions provided, so while we will always look to use that as a starting point, none of this is provided for our benefit. So let’s move right into the section that prohibits actual gambling and make that our starting point:
“Betting on games of chance; furnishing money or thing of value therefor; penalty.
If any person at any place, public or private, bet or wage money or other thing of value on any game of chance, or shall knowingly furnish any money or other thing of value to any other person to bet or wage on any such game, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be fined not less than five nor more than three hundred dollars, and shall, if required by the court, give security for his good behavior for one year, and in default of the payment of such fine and the costs and the execution of such bond, if such bond be required, shall be imprisoned in the county jail not less than ten nor more than thirty days.” (1)
What is a game of chance though? This is why gambling law typically either provides definitions or at the very least provides some clarity as to what the prohibited games actually consist of. Whether poker is a game of chance or not is a matter of much debate, and while it does involve an element of chance, when it is undefined by law this serves to transfer the entire matter to the courts in situations like this where there such a lack of meaning.
The Consequences of Law Written So Poorly
So what we end up seeing is judges applying their own understanding of these matters, and these decisions can go either way depending on the particular court. We have instances of courts deciding poker is predominantly a game of skill, others decide it is predominantly a game of chance, and there are numerous ways that this can be decided.
For instance you can look at each hand as an entity upon itself, where chance would play a larger role, or you can look at poker sessions as the entity you want to look at, favoring skill. There are many other permutations that go into these analyses, and given the goal is supposed to be having laws convey the wishes of the legislature and not the judiciary, law written like this fails to achieve its objective.
We have yet to see a decision by the courts in West Virginia concerning this matter, which does tell you one thing though, people aren’t being charged for playing poker. So people in West Virginia may not even care, as states really aren’t focused on going after players anyway, and this appears to be the case in this state as well.
People do get convicted of gambling in West Virginia, but they are charged with running gambling operations and not merely playing games of chance, whatever that may consist of exactly.
Do The Laws Relating To Operating Gaming Provide Any Insight Here?
Even so, we do strive to seek clarity within the law of a given state as far as playing goes, so perhaps looking at West Virginia’s laws against operating gaming.
There is a lot of focus here on devices and there are several charges based upon gaming tables and devices, including a list and description of what gaming tables and devices are.
If you were looking to set up a home poker game you’d also want to be aware if you are breaking any of these laws so let’s have a look:
It does mention several forms of gaming tables and devices, things we would normally consider to be as such, these all have the features of having their primary function at least to be used for gaming purposes, in comparison with something like a kitchen table for instance, whose primary function would be for something else even though it may be used for gaming periodically. (2)
The section does mention the provision of “whether the game, table, bank, machine or device be played with cards, dice or otherwise,” and some have interpreted that to mean that dice and/or cards are also gaming devices, but this is incorrect, and we know from the wording here that they are not to be considered as such and they are instead only a feature of certain actual gaming devices. (3)
There are several more sections dealing with violations related to gaming devices, including the crime of playing at a gaming device, but there isn’t anything here that would lead us to believe that the playing of poker constitutes gambling, even though it may be true that certain types of poker tables may constitute gaming devices. This may be the way a court might interpret this as it does mention “any other table or gaming device of any kind,” and a commercial poker table may be construed as being one.
Playing Poker In West Virginia
West Virginia does have gaming devices you can play at legally though, and they have a good amount of regulated gaming including some pretty large venues, like the Hollywood Casino Charles Town which features 50 tables, making it one of the largest poker rooms in the country.
There are a total of 5 locations in the state that offer live poker as well as other forms of gaming. (4)
While West Virginia doesn’t have any specific provisions to allow for home games to be excluded from the law, given the uncertainty of whether the law even applies to poker, as well as the lack of people being charged for this, it might not matter.
As for online poker, given West Virginia’s fairly progressive stance toward gambling in general, regulated online gaming could very well be on the horizon, although there are no plans on enacting any bills at this time.
Players from West Virginia continue to be welcomed at a number of offshore poker sites though, and in fact none have any issues with permitting players from this state to play at their online poker rooms.
Should you wish to join the many West Virginians who take advantage of these poker playing opportunities, we are happy to provide you with our top two recommended sites for you, which are America’s Cardroom and Carbon Poker. Feel free to click on the links we have set up for you to check out our reviews for them and decide for yourself.
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