Keeping Your Home Poker Game Legal and Safe

Three young men playing poker, one placing bet, close-up
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Keeping your home game legal and safe is fairly simple, but it's surprising how many people make mistakes that put their game at risk from both cops and robbers. You will still need to do a little research into your local laws to make sure you're compliant with them, but these simple rules will go a long way toward ensuring your game is both legal and safe. The websites HomePokerGames and PokerDIY both provide some explanations of gambling laws as they pertain to home poker games in different locations.

Accept No Money

This is the big one as far as the law is concerned. No matter how local ordinances differ, if you take a rake or a time charge or accept money for running the game in any way, then you are operating outside of the law. A 2012 ruling by a Federal judge ruled poker a game of skill rather than a game of chance and this might someday lead to an easing of this restriction. But for now, if you charge people to play you are quite likely to run afoul of the law.

Keep the Stakes Small

Neither cops nor robbers are interested in small stakes games. By small stakes we mean the average buy-in remains below $USD100. Additionally, keeping the stakes low means less possibility of hurt feelings between participants. Keeping your home poker game cheap and fun goes a long way toward making it safe, as well.

Know Your Players

Seems obvious, but if you know everyone who plays, then no moles, mechanics, or any other unsavory characters are going to be playing in your game.

Make it invite only and no friends of friends allowed. This seems harsh, but if you only play poker with people you know and trust, you're very unlikely to be taken advantage of.

Cut the Cards

You don't have to be a mechanic or have any skills with manipulating cards to know that if you don't cut the cards, anyone can make sure the bottom card -- that everyone has seen -- is now on the top of the deck when dealt.

Cutting the cards isn't to protect yourself from professional mechanics -- keeping the stakes small does that -- it's to protect you from amateurs who will take advantage when given the opportunity. Don't give them the opportunity: cut the cards every time and insist your players do as well.

Play in a Safe Neighborhood

Most crimes are crimes of opportunity. As above, remove the opportunity. Play in a crime-free neighborhood with a good police presence and maybe a neighborhood watch. This is another reason to run a legal game. You want to be able to call the police if something goes wrong.

Play With Chips, Not Cash

There are myriad reasons for this rule. First off poker is more fun with chips. It feels like real poker. Secondly, with no money on the table, an outside observer can't have any idea of what stakes are being played. No one risks prison time to rob what might be a nickel-ante game.

If You Get Robbed

Give them the money. You can always make more money. If you've got a license to carry and are armed at a game, please remember to only use your gun if it looks like people are going to be hurt. You don't need or want your money protected with deadly force. Give up the money and let the police track down the robbers.