Kentucky Gambling Laws & Online Casinos

The Bluegrass State is famed for its racetracks, the biggest and best in the USA, and of course for the signature Kentucky Derby. The state has a long history of gambling, with Newport a center for mob-based gambling operations during the first half of the 20th century. The state now has a very mixed approach to gambling, soft at the edges but with a rock hard core.

The law tends to focus on organizers, promoters and providers of illegal gambling, rather than penalizing players, in fact there are apparently specific provisions in place to protect mere players from prosecution. Social gambling is accepted within certain defined parameters although there are not specific areas of statute law devoted to the issue, and yet there is little in the way of state sanctioned organized gambling – there are no casinos, or licensed poker rooms in Kentucky.
Local boy Kurt Jewell from Frankfort made good in 2010, taking down the largest event in WSOP Circuit history at a Chicago event, besting a poker tournament field of 872 players to win the first prize of $242,909.

The history of gambling in Kentucky is much livelier than current circumstance might have you believe. The Cleveland Syndicate was a major organized crime outfit who began to work Kentucky during prohibition. Gambling and illegal casinos were their secondary focus, emerging during the 1930s on the back of a major bootlegging operation. The same group was also heavily involved in the development of gambling in Las Vegas.

For a fully detailed and lovingly crafted account of the history of illegal gambling from 1920 to 1970 in Kentucky, consult the excellent “When Vice Was King” by Jim Linduff [1].

The Letter of the Law

The law takes a stern approach to anyone running unregulated gambling in the state, encouraging every peace officer to “endeavor, to the best of his ability, to detect and prosecute all gamblers and others violating the laws against gaming” according to Gaming Law Masters, who offer their usual highly detailed guide to the state’s laws here [2].

It might sound from the above as if players participating in unlicensed gambling events would face prosecution, but it appears that this is not the case. Elsewhere in the same document, Gaming Law Masters quote the following comment which accompanied changes to statute seen in 2009 “The status of a ‘player’ shall be a defense to any prosecution under this chapter”. Promotion of gambling, keeping of gambling records, and gambling with a minor are all criminal offenses, however.

Of course, with such a thriving horseracing scene, there are plenty of regulations surrounding this industry, including rules governing illegal tampering with games and various other matters. The document above provides a full breakdown.

Legal Online Gambling in Kentucky

The status of online gambling in Kentucky is rather interesting. While there are no specific statutes outlawing such activity, there are other indications that the state does not smile on internet wagering.

While it seems that Kentucky is much more concerned with going after providers of gambling than player participants, boy does it go after those providers. In a case running over five years, the state attempted to seize hundreds of online gambling domain names, apparently prompted by fears that online gambling within the state would deprive Kentucky’s precious horse racing industry of revenue.

Although it is not entirely clear who has settled out of court, and who still faces further haranguing from the state, Governor Steve Beshear has recently announced gains to the state of Kentucky of over $6 million in direct relation to these ongoing legal actions. Sites targeted in the initial action include major poker sites PokerStars, FullTilt Poker, Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet. Further information on the latest development in this curious case can be found in this report [3].

The one clear exception to all of this is horse racing, as the state recently began to allow online pari-mutuel wagering with licensed providers. Any other online wagering, while unlikely to see you facing individual prosecution, is certainly not approved of by the state, who are going after providers still allowing Kentucky players to register. As a result, many sites which are still relatively US friendly will not allow Kentuckians to register even for freerolls.

What Forms of Gambling Are Legal in Kentucky?

You’ve got options in the home of the Kentucky Derby, and the clear favorite amongst these it to attend one of the state’s prestigious horse racing tracks and place a wager.

If that doesn’t appeal, there are a few other possibilities.

You can buy a ticket to the state lottery [4], which has been running since 1988, with proceeds going to educational scholarship programs and other forms of educational charity.

The state also allows various forms of charitable gaming, including the rather popular charity bingo. Charities must abide by a range of regulations, and are not allowed to run slot machines or certain other forms of gaming.

Aside from that, while there are no casinos or licensed poker rooms in the state, there are still a few wagering options. There are a number of riverboat casinos which fairly border Kentucky in neighboring Indiana and Ohio, with a helpful soul having drawn up a map of the aforementioned here [5].

Your other outs include attending a home game, of which there seem to be plenty according to Poker DIY, but bear in mind that while playing is almost certainly fine under Kentucky law, running a home game is a bit more of a gray area, and at the very least you should ensure that you don’t take any kind of rake or consideration from players, and perhaps it would be best to get some legal advice before hosting games.

The state does have a number of freerolls or charity poker games running, which seem to manage to run through virtue of taking no rake, but I’m unclear on the legality of these ventures. More on these can be found here [6].

Finally, there appears to be some official uncertainty over the legality of certain sweepstake style Internet gambling cafes, according to this report from BG Daily News [7]. According to this news outlet as of August 2013 officials are “researching the issue”.

The Racetracks – Legal Betting

The Kentucky Derby is by far the largest racing event in the USA, attracting hundreds of thousands each year and famed throughout the world. This helpful site [8] offers a guide to all things Derby-related, including all your (somewhat complex) wagering options. It also provides some detailed information on the official Kentucky Derby Application for mobiles, which you can find out even more about on the official Derby site [9].

A plethora of sites provide information on racing in Kentucky, as you’d expect. A couple of other solid resources include Kentucky Derby Betting, which has a lot of resources to help you navigate your wagering options, and the Kentucky Tourism, which lists all the horse racing tracks in the state. From a cursory glance there appear to be fifteen decent venues to choose between.

Recent Developments in Kentucky’s Gambling Laws

An article from 2012 by CBS Moneywatch [10] documents a gathering momentum in Kentucky lobbying for regulated casinos in the state. According to the report a coalition of business people, educators and labor representatives are pushing for legislation in support of establishing the state’s first legal casinos. Arguments being exchanged seem principally focused on whether such venues would really bring significant income to Kentucky.

The Governor has referenced plans [11] to allow statewide slot machine-type gambling, but has also stated that the casino issue will not make any progress in 2013, as it is too late for it to do so in the current legislative session. The Senate also voted against [12] such moves in 2011, by a 21-16 majority.

Despite the Governor’s comments, another senator has put forward a bill, House Bill 52, proposing that larger cities and racetracks would be able to vote over the right to run their own local casino operations, as covered in this piece from WDRB [13].

As one advocacy group gains notoriety, so do their opponents, with a group by the name of Stop Predatory Gambling Kentucky [14] launching in March 2013 to oppose any gambling expansion plans which may arise in the state.

In another story from Kentucky.com [15], Lottery board members voted unanimously to move towards selling online lottery tickets and Keno games in March of 2013. While the games make not arrive until 2015, it looks as if there is set to be a little bit more online action than previously expected in the Bluesgrass State.

Busts and Arrests

A fair few illegal gambling busts do occur in Kentucky, mostly centered on the seizing of illegal gambling machines and the usually fairly small amounts of money found in them. In this larger than average bust covered in The Times Tribunal [16], 17 machines and over $3,000 were taken by police from three locations in Williamsburg.

In another similar bust in Hillview [17], a twist to the tale was the discovery of a fellow policeman at the crime scene, engaged in play. Those in attendance received citations to appear in court, but no mention was made in this news coverage from Wave 3 News as to whether they faced any specific charges.

From what Gaming Law Masters relayed on their legal guide to Kentucky, they shouldn’t face any charges for mere attendance and play, with the weight of the law bearing down on those running the venue. Of course, for accurate legal advice of any kind you should always rely only on a lawyer, not on a piece of research from a hired pen.

In larger news which perhaps indicates one of the lesser known incentives behind fighting illegal gambling, Louisville police force received a serious windfall in 2005, as a nine year investigation initiated by the department reached completion. This piece from the Las Vegas Sun details the story of the local police department, who stand to receive over $500,000 of the forfeited assets of a busted illegal bingo hall and money laundering outfit, which the Chief stated he hoped would be spent on a new helicopter.

Summary

In the fine state of Kentucky you can certainly have a good old time wagering on those horses, with some of the biggest and most prestigious events in horseracing taking place here.

With regard to other wagering activities, you can play the state lottery which is apparently soon to go online, and take part in state regulated charitable bingo and raffles.

When it comes to casino games, there aren’t any options for that yet in Kentucky. There are some venues very close to the state borders, mostly riverboats in Ohio and Indiana. There are some noises in the legislature about regulating Kentucky casinos, but so far no convincing action on this.

Participating in un-raked home games or free rolls doesn’t appear to be illegal, so that’s another option out there. Otherwise just stick to the races.

Sources for this article

  1. PreservingGamingHistory.com: When Vice Was King
  2. GamingLawMasters.com: Kentucky
  3. Kentucky.Gov: Kentucky Leaders Vow to Continue Fight Against Unauthorized, Unlicensed Gambling Websites
  4. KYLottery.com
  5. KYCasinos.com: Map of Riverboat Casinos near Kentucky
  6. DerbyCityPoker.com: Local Tournaments
  7. BGDailyNews.com: Games open, but legality not clear
  8. KentuckyGaming.com
  9. KentuckyDerby.com
  10. Kentucky.com: Coalition of 31 organizations supports putting Kentucky gambling amendment on ballot
  11. WKYUFM.org: Kentucky Governor: Casino Bill Dead for 2013 Session
  12. WDRB.com: Casino gambling still has pulse in General Assembly
  13. Kentucky.com: Gambling foes launch advocacy group
  14. Kentucky.com: Kentucky Lottery Board approves keno game, online lottery games
  15. Wave3.com: Police officer facing charges after illegal gambling hall raid