Gamblers in Indiana are not without legal options when it comes to playing their favorite games of chance and skill, but as a conservative state in the midst of the nation's heartland, they are strictly limited to those games that have received the official nod of state legislators in Indianapolis. Indeed, the Hoosier State is one of the few jurisdictions to apply the law equally to those operating illegal gaming options along with the players who frequent such establishments.
For those willing to play within the law however, there are plenty of outlets in which to scratch that gambling itch from riverboat casinos to pari-mutuel betting to participating in the state lottery. Let's examine the gambling laws in the Hoosier State, followed by the legalities of those laws regarding poker, and finally look to the future regarding whether the state will move towards the regulation of real-money poker.
Indiana Gambling Laws
While Indiana put the brakes on most forms of gambling for more than two-thirds of the 20th-century, the hunger of Hoosiers for gaming opportunities materialized in the 1980s with the introduction of the state lottery. Immediately popular, the floodgates opened on a variety of gambling including casino and pari-mutuel betting on horse races.
As of 2017, here is a brief rundown where gamblers legally stand when gaming in Indiana:
Casino Games— Indiana has authorized the establishment of riverboat casinos that offer an array of table games and thousands of slot machine-style games. While originally mandated to be on the move when game play was in action, these riverboat casinos can now operate while moored to the dock.
Sports Betting— Indiana is a huge sports loving state, but residents in the Hoosier State are limited to placing pari-mutuel wagering at licensed horse racing tracks throughout the state. Additionally, players can also avail themselves of electronic gaming machines that are available on site.
Lottery Betting— Indiana offers lottery play for its residents that include a range of gaming options from instant scratch off games to participation in inter-state games such as the Powerball where players can compete for tens of millions of dollars in winnings.
Bingo Games—are allowed for charitable fundraising purposes in the Indiana, which have to be individually licensed to be considered legal.
Live Poker—is enjoyed in the poker rooms of riverboat casinos, which also host tournaments boasting huge purses for the most talented players. Unlike many states however, Indiana does not condone social poker games where organizers are at risk of incurring severe legal repercussions if caught, and players are subject to misdemeanor charges.
Online Casinos and Poker— while willing to condone gambling activities when conducted locally, Indiana has adopted a hard stance against online casino and poker play. Indeed, the state, along with Washington and Utah, have outright banned gambling online although several offshore poker sites continue to offer Indiana denizens a place to play poker on the internet.
In general, two distinctive features set Indiana's legal code, which sets it apart from other state jurisdictions. First, the legal statutes make no distinction between games of chance and games of skill, which is often the distinction that allows room for legalized poker games. Secondly, the law specifically singles out the internet as verboten when it comes to playing a host of traditional gambling games ranging from slots to table game style play.
Indiana Online Poker Laws
As mentioned, Indiana went out of their way to ban online poker play, and in fact targeted the entire internet as forbidden territory when it comes to playing online poker or casino-style games. To begin with, Indiana's gambling laws are so broad as to probably include poker play, and its inclusion of the term "gambling device" further expands the definition as it applies to online game play.
According to the Indiana legal code, unlawful gambling is defined as, "knowingly or intentionally engaging in gambling that is not explicitly regulated by the state." Further, the state's regulatory power takes aim at the operators of online sites with felony charges for violations.
Under the law, Section 35-45-5-3 states that it illegal to operate online casino, sports books, and poker. The law further criminalizes the processing of any type of payments to these online poker sites. Again, the language take aims at the operators of such sites, and casual players do not face prosecution.
That being said however, Indiana poker players could easily find an offshore-based online poker site that will willingly open an account for Hoosier State denizens. Existing in the legal grey area that is the jurisdictional reality of the internet, poker players in Indiana can access U.S.-facing sites for real money play from Indianapolis to Terra Haute and all points in between.
Is it Legal to Play Poker in Indiana?
Under the right circumstances, poker is most assuredly legal to play in Indiana. The watershed year for Hoosiers, who are also poker aficionados was 1993, and passage of a measure that allowed for the licensing of up to five riverboat casinos throughout the state. initially mandated to be on the move when gambling was underway, the state has since determined that these casinos can operate while permanently moored to the dock.
For a full array of gaming and gambling opportunities, these facilities offer table games and slot machines aplenty. In addition to table games like poker, blackjack, craps, roulette, and more, each of these sprawling facilitates houses thousands of video gaming machines from slot machines to video poker. Dotting the Lake Michigan shoreline and along the Ohio River, Indiana residents have a myriad of options when it comes to playing competitive, real-money poker.
In fact, the state moved further with a 2011 legislative measure granting the building of a single land-based casino, which resulted in an additional 38,000-square-foot of gaming space at the 3,000-acre French Lick Resort Casino. For the professional gambler, these outlets sponsor tournament level play with impressive purses, which underscores the fact that Indiana is the third largest poker market in the nation.
As authorized sites, operating under Indiana government sanction, these land-based and riverboat casinos provide all the legal cover players need for enjoying their favorite game of poker.
Straying outside those lines however, as in the case of social poker games, operators can incur substantial legal penalties for organizing games. Additionally, law enforcement has gone so far as to charging individual players with a misdemeanor for participating.
Will Indiana Regulate Online Poker?
Looking at Indiana's track record regarding the expansion of other gambling venues, one can hold out hope that the state will move towards regulating the online poker market, but they would be advised to not hold their breath. Legislation dating back more than a decade, 2006, legislators in Indianapolis specifically added language to the legal statutes that targeted internet gaming options. While the wording does not completely close the door on online poker and casino play, it does place some obstacles in the front of that door.
Knowledgeable observers believe, as is the case with more restrictive jurisdictions that Indiana might move towards regulated online gaming once they see the success neighboring states enjoy with increased tax revenues. For the present however, until Indiana residents begin crossing over state lines to play in neighboring jurisdictions, it is unlikely that the Hoosiers will be pushing the envelope in terms of an aggressive expansion of online play.
History of Gambling in Indiana
When Indiana drafted their initial constitution in 1851, they outright banned participation of lotteries. This opposition to games of chance stayed steadfast for the next 130 years until legislators authorized a state lottery with the proceeds earmarked for educational purposes. The sale proved immediately popular, and the state moved from scratch off tickets to inclusion of state players in multi-state Powerball games.
During the heady days of Prohibition, when famous mobsters ran speakeasies and gin houses throughout the Midwest,, Indiana was a hot spot for illegal gaming options. East Chicago, Indiana was a noted stopping point for illicit play throughout the 1920s and 1930s. It wasn't until unremitting violence between rival gangs, jockeying for power, led to law enforcement crackdowns on illegal gaming parlors.
Indeed, the lottery proved so popular that voters passed a referendum the following year, with an impressive 60% of the vote, to push forward with legal casino gambling, but that goal took another four years to achieve after Republican state leaders blocked the expansion attempt.
Representatives in the Indiana statehouse pushed through a measure to license riverboat casinos only to see the effort stumble and fall in pass out of a senate committee in 1991. It was not until a 1993 financial emergency that legislation authorizing five riverboat casinos was passed to help balance the state's financial books.
Racetrack fans got a leg up on their favorite hobby with opening of Hoosier Park Horse Racing Track, which offered both on-track and pari-mutuel betting on their races. This would be the first of five licensed remote horse race betting sites. Additionally, beginning in 2002, each racing complex was also authorized to add upwards of 2,000 slot machines at each location. Finally, as mentioned, in 2011 the state moved forward with a bill sanctioning the building of a land—based casino complex.