An Overview of Gambling Laws in the State Of Alabama
Alabama has seen religious elements and progressives clash over the subject of gambling for many years. The State constitution has a very wide definition of gambling, and as with most States it bans it all – the difference here is that there are very few exemptions. There are harsh penalties, which get worse on Sundays! Over the years there have been carve-outs for dog and horse racing, and for bingo and slots at tribal casinos. Many Alabamians cross over to Mississippi casinos instead – giving a massive boost to the State coffers of that State. This page covers Alabama gambling laws in depth.
First below you will find a quick-fire history, which will give you an overview and flavor of gambling in Alabama – right up to the present day. After that a game-by-game guide to what is currently legal or banned can be found – followed by a timeline of the legislation controls gambling in this State. At the end of this page you will find a quick summary of the present situation and a look into the possible scenarios for the future.
Alabama shares a lot of colorful gambling history with its neighbor Mississippi. The Steam boat casinos with their card-sharps and other shady characters would have been an amazing experience more than a century ago. Unlike Mississippi, who embraced gambling and now receives substantial revenues from casinos – Alabama has gone the conservative route, and almost all gambling games are illegal in this state.
The 1901 State constitution sets the tone. This defines gambling as any game for financial gain with an element of chance. This means that even games of skill are outlawed if there is an element of chance involved. Poker is the obvious ‘victim’ of this loose interpretation.
Greyhound and horse racing did get an exemption from this definition of gambling. The argument goes that this is entirely based on the skill of both the animal and jockey, and so not a game of chance. Pari-mutuel betting can take place on-track and the races can be enjoyed on TV.
There are tribal casinos in Alabama, though these are heavily restricted in terms of the games they are allowed to offer. There are no table games at all, only slots and bingo-type games. There was a later attempt to introduce electronic bingo games. These were allowed and then quickly withdrawn when a Supreme Court ruling judged them to be covered by that 1901 definition.
The status-quo in Alabama is that gambling remains banned, and those who like to gamble either go to offshore online sites (which are not explicitly illegal, though assumed to be covered by the 1901 act), or hop over the Mississippi. This keeps the religious majority in this State happy – and does give some avenues for those who enjoy gambling.
Here is a quick run through of the different gambling formats, including a note on whether they are currently legal according to Alabama law.
Casino Games: No, there are tribal casinos, however these are limited to class 2 slots and bingo games. Casino table games are not legal under Alabama law. Crossing the Mississippi to gamble in their casinos where these games are feely available is very popular.
Online Casinos: No, again there are no laws relating to the online component, though casino gambling is banned and those laws are assumed to cover the internet too.
Live Poker: No, there is no distinction in the laws of this state between poker and other table games like Blackjack. You can play home-games or ‘social poker games’, which are defined as games between friends where the house or organizer takes no profit or rake. The ‘social’ defense has been used in court, though the understanding of residents is that these games are best kept between friends and not widely advertised.
Online Poker: No, there are no specific laws banning online poker. Poker is not seen as a skill game under the definition of gambling games in this state. Any game with some element of chance is considered gambling. There are no indications that Alabama will regulate online poker games any time soon.
Sports Betting: Yes, you can bet on greyhound racing and horse racing at several tracks in Alabama. This form of gambling was exempted from the 1901 laws as a game of skill in 1971. Gambling is via pari-mutuel pools and can be watched on TV.
Lottery Betting: No, there is no State lottery in Alabama, and this State does not participate in any national schemes.
Bingo: Yes, bingo exists at Indian Casinos, though there are currently legal battles going on covering electronic bingo machines. Bingo and raffle games are also legal under charitable gambling laws, under strict license and conditions.
During Civil War times there were lotteries running which included neighboring Southern States. These ended in acrimony, with Louisiana leaving the deal under protest. The current legal situation in Alabama all comes from the State’s constitution enacted in 1901. It is this which paints the broad definition of gambling – and everything since then has revolved around carve-outs or crack-downs based on this initial legal document. Here is the timeline of events.
1901: Alabama State constitution bans all forms of gambling with wording broad enough to encompass just about every game you can think of.
“…stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control or influence…” (From 13A-12-20)
Over the years this definition has been interpreted as covering any game with even an element of chance. For example, some people argue that poker is a game of skill, however since the turning of cards is a chance factor – this is considered gambling under Alabama law.
1971: Pari-Mutuel betting at greyhound racing and horse racing tracks is ruled Legal by the Supreme Court. This is overseen by the Alabama Racing Commission – and has since been extended to betting on televised live races.
1980: Charitable bingo gambling begins.
1988: Casinos are made legal on tribal territories within Alabama by the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. These casinos are restricted to slot machines and some type of Bingo games. This leads to the opening of 3 tribal casinos in this State – though most residents simply travel to Mississippi to enjoy the table games which are still banned under Alabaman law.
In more recent years there have been attempts to restart a State lottery, to have electronic bingo machines in the current casinos and a crack-down on video poker machines. While these have been debated in the courts and State government – each time the 1901 law has stood up. As far as gambling is concerned, if there is an element of chance – then it is banned.
One bright note for Alabamans, there has so far been no individual indicted for enjoying gambling online – nor any debate on this by the State government.
Every time a change to the laws or an exclusion from them has been attempted – the 1901 wording has prevailed. With the sole exception of dog and horse racing, gambling looks like it will remain limited in Alabama for the foreseeable future. I do not see this State regulating online poker at any point in the future.
Alabama Racing Commissions
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