Georgia Poker Laws

Georgia lore teaches us that the conservative Peach State has a general disdain for anything that involves real money wagering. Which is too bad, since Georgia is certainly populated enough to support a robust online poker community.

That being said, Georgia’s gambling stance has appeared to soften of late. In 2012, state lottery officials threw their support behind bringing the lottery online. [1] Governor Nathan Deal also approved of the move, and today, residents from the state can purchase their favorite lotto games from the convenience of their PC or mobile device. Now, that doesn’t necessary mean legislators are ready to jump off the cliff for other forms of Internet gambling, but it’s a decisive step in the right direction.

Georgia has also toyed with the idea of launching a brick and mortar casino industry. However, in this regard Gov. Deal has offered strong opposition. But now that more and more states are embracing the casino model, it’s conceivable that Georgia officials will feel compelled to at least explore the industry’s financial merits.

Yet for all of the recent headlines involving the lotto and possible gaming expansion, Georgia’s gambling stance still more closely resembles that of its neighbor to the north (South Carolina), than the one of Florida, where gambling has become engrained into everyday culture.

Can Players from Georgia Play Real-Money Online Poker?

Signing up for a real money poker site that accepts players from Georgia is a surprisingly easy process. Whether or not it’s legal to do so – now that’s a different issue altogether.

Suffice it to say that Georgia doesn’t abide by the same gambling laws as most European countries, where online poker is regulated and legal. Regulated poker offers certain advantages, such as fast, reliable payouts, enhanced security measures, and of course peace of mind. These advantages do not exist for Georgia players, who for the time being must either risk playing on an unregulated site, or not at all.

Is Online Poker Legal in Georgia?

Georgia’s gambling statutes are a relic of a time gone by. They contain no mention of Internet gambling, and likely have not been updated since before the dawn of the computer. Thus, it’s impossible to determine with certainly the current legal status of online poker.

The state’s defines what constitutes the offense of gambling in three broad strokes (Section 16-12-21):

(1) Makes a bet upon the partial or final result of any game or contest or upon the performance of any participant in such game or contest; (2) Makes a bet upon the result of any political nomination, appointment, or election or upon the degree of success of any nominee, appointee, or candidate; or (3) Plays and bets for money or other thing of value at any game played with cards, dice, or balls.

The last point is the most disconcerting, as it appears to apply directly to poker. However, in order to accurately grasp the severity of the law, we look at how the statutes define Bet.

Bet means an agreement that, dependent upon chance even though accompanied by some skill, one stands to win or lose something of value.

The definition goes on to list several exclusions, of which poker is not one.

Taken together, it certainly appears that playing poker is not legal. Unfortunately, there is no apparent carve out for social gambling either.

Those who commit the offense of gambling, which for all intents and purposes simply means gambling as a player, can be charged with a misdemeanor. The law does not specify what fines and/or mandatory jail sentencing is tied to the charge, leading us to believe that players get off relatively unscathed.

Operators, on the other hand, face charges for everything from conducting operations to advertising and owning gaming devices (of which the statutes list many).

The harshest penalty is reserved for those who commit the offense of commercial gambling, which carries a one to five year prison term and a fine not to exceed $20,000, or both.

For a more comprehensive look at Georgia Code, navigate to the “References” section. [2]

Georgia Gambling History

Believe it or not, prior to the 20th century gambling was a rich facet of Georgia’s culture. Residents gambled on everything from sporting events, card games such as poker, and races. Back then, it was common practice for underground gambling houses to pay off law officials for the right to accept real-money wagers.

The first gambling crackdown occurred in the 1930s. In the years prior, a well-known newspaper journalist Thomas Lee Bailey posted articles in the Cochran Journal advocating for the stricter enforcement of existing gambling laws. His influence resonated with the public, and by the advent of the Great Depression Georgia’s gambling scene began drying up.

For the next six decades, Georgia’s conservative ideals held strong, and gambling was virtually nowhere to be found. The first crack in the armor was the legalization of gambling cruise ships in the early-1990s. In order to wager on games such as poker, blackjack and craps, the law required that the ships travel at least three miles off the coastline, into international waters. Casino cruise ships, such as the Emerald Princes II Casino still operate to this very day. [3]

Then, in 1994 the Georgia State Lottery was formed, and has since grown into a multi-billion dollar industry and a reliable source of tax revenue.

Not a peep was heard on the gambling front for the next 18 years, when the lottery was brought online. That same year, a study was conducted by the Georgia Lottery Corporation weighing the pros and cons of a casino industry. It concluded that casinos could win as much as $1 billion by 2014.

Regulated Gambling Options in Georgia

Besides the lottery, the only form of gambling that is legal in Georgia is charitable gambling, and even that is subject to heavy restrictions. To elaborate, raffles and bingo are permissible, in so long as they’re held by a recognized institution.

Other recent headlines

The closest thing Georgia has had to a recent gambling headline came in 2012 when Republican voters responded somewhat favorably to the idea of building casinos to help fund education reform. [4] The modest victory was enough to encourage developer Dan O’Leary to continue his fight to build a slot terminal site in Norcross. However, Governor Deal took the opportunity to reassert his anti-casino stance. From his perspective, the victory was far too narrow to merit further consideration. Since, gaming expansion has not been actively discussed.

Also in 2012, Georgia officials passed a law designed to prevent Internet cafes from hosting electronic sweepstakes, on the basis that they promoted gambling.

The Future of Regulated Online Gambling in Georgia

Although Georgia is one of only a handful of states to venture into the online gaming realm, it’s difficult to see legislators taking the next step. Prior attempts to pass casino legislation have fallen flat, and with Gov. Deal winning his reelection bid in 2014, Georgia has resigned itself to four more years of gambling intolerance.


  1. Jump up ^ Online Georgia Lottery sales start Sunday
  2. Jump up ^ Code of Georgia – Free Public Access
  3. Jump up ^ Emerald Princess Casino
  4. Jump up ^ Developer’s hope renewed after gambling measure gets yes vote