Indiana Poker & Online Gambling Laws

Most people would not consider Indiana to be a gambling Mecca – but it could have been. Despite being one-third of the size of Nevada, it has more than twice the population of the Silver State, and for many years was generating more tax revenues from riverboat gambling than it was from the personal income taxes of the State´s 6.5 million citizens.

However, since the glory days, conservative attitudes have restricted the opportunities for gambling in Indiana – both live and online. Many of the Hoosier State´s gamblers now head over the border to the new luxury casinos in Cincinnati to the south-east and Des Plaines to the north-west – creating a massive hole in the State´s budget.

Despite the falling tax revenues from gambling in Indiana, current Republican Governor – Mike Pence – has said he will oppose an expansion of Indiana gambling laws [1]. His opposition to gambling also means that there is unlikely to be any movement towards regulated online poker in Indiana.

Can I Legally Play Online Poker if I Live in Indiana?

Legally – No. In its section related to gambling, the Indiana Code states that a person who knowingly or intentionally engages in unlawful gambling … … [commits] a Class B misdemeanor [2], and the Code blows the skill -v- chance argument out of the water by defining gambling as risking money or other property for gain, contingent in whole or in part upon chance.

Specifically playing poker online in Indiana is also covered by the Code, which expressly prohibits operators of online gambling from conducting any banking or percentage games player with the computer equivalent of cards, dice or counters either from within Indiana or when a transaction involves a person located in Indiana.

The penalties for being caught playing online poker can reach six months imprisonment and a fine of $1,000 but, due to the costs involved in bringing criminal charges, this section of the Code has never been pursued, and plenty of the best poker sites continue to offer an online service to citizens of Indiana.

Is it Legal to Play Poker in Indiana at all?

The definition of unlawful gambling in the Indiana Code relates to any gambling activity which is not expressly permitted by the State. Fortunately the state permits live poker to be played on the riverboats moored on the Lake Michigan and the Ohio River and at the French Lick Casino in Orange County – which was originally designed as a riverboat and surrounded by a moat to get its gambling license! [3]

Live poker in Indiana is controlled by the Indiana Gaming Commission, who conveniently defines poker as [4]:

… a card game played by a maximum of ten (10) players who are dealt cards by a non-player dealer. The object of the game is for each player to bet the superiority of his or her own hand and win the other players’ bets by either making a bet no other player is willing to match or proving to hold the most valuable cards after all the betting is over.

It may also be of interest to poker players in Indiana to know that home games of poker are illegal if the host of the game deducts a rake from the pot, and that casinos have an obligation to withhold unpaid child support from your winnings [5]. There are also attempts to introduce live dealer tables at the State´s two racetracks – Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park – which will expand the opportunities for playing poker in Indiana [6].

The History of Gambling Legislation in Indiana

The banning of lotteries in the Hoosier State´s constitution of 1851 effectively abolished all forms of legal gambling until a referendum to change the constitution was held in 1988. Indiana voters approved the constitutional amendment by a margin of 24% and the first legal lottery tickets went on sale the following October [7].

However, between 1851 and 1988, gambling was not dead – far from it. The town of French Lick was well served by the railroad from the neighboring states of Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky, and became a popular destination because of its sulfur springs. It quickly grew into a resort town for the rich and famous and – during the 1920s – twelve casinos existed in the small town to serve a population of less than 2,000 [8].

Even after the Great Depression reduced the number of casinos in French Lick to just a handful, gambling in Indiana remained alive and well. The city of East Chicago in Lake County was a hotbed of illegal gambling activity – one casino was reported to have a gross take of $9 million in 1950 [9] – and, had it not been for a narrow defeat in the 1968 referendum, Indiana might have been the second US-mainland state to introduce a state-regulated lottery (after New Hampshire in 1964).

Other notable dates in Indiana´s legislative history include:

1977 – The General Assembly approves a bill to introduce pari-mutuel betting, but it is vetoed by Governor Otis Bowen.

1989 – Along with the establishment of a state-regulated lottery, pari-mutuel betting was legalized – although the next bet on horse race did not take place until 1995

1993 – The Indiana Riverboat Gaming Act legalizes gambling on riverboats – provided that they leave dock before gambling begins.

1995 – The first Off Track Horse Betting Parlors are opened in five Indiana cities under the auspices of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission.

2001 – The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians turns down the opportunity to open a casino in the north of the state and choose New Buffalo in Michigan.

2002 – An amendment to the Riverboat Gaming Act allows riverboats to remain moored while offering a service to the public.

2007 – The two Indiana racetracks are allowed to operate 2,000 slot machines on their premises. These evolve into video poker and e-table games over time.

2009 – Interim Gaming Study Committee considers proposals to license Indiana´s second land-based casino at Fort Wayne.

The Current Situation Regarding Online Poker in Indiana

Despite the financial benefits that the state has witnessed from taxing brick and mortar casinos ($752 million in 2013 [10]), there have been no initiatives to regulate and tax online poker in Indiana. This is possibly the best solution for everybody, for although the state´s population is large enough to support intrastate online poker, the potential revenues generated by online poker would more than likely come at the detriment of the brick and mortar casinos.

Currently, online poker in Indiana remains illegal, and it is likely to stay this way unless tax revenues from brick and mortar casino collapse or a federal bill is introduced to legalize online poker throughout the whole of the United States.

Poker´s Big Winner from Indiana

Despite the proliferation of casinos throughout the state, there is only one player who originates from Indiana that has recorded winnings in excess of $1 million – Mclean Karr. Karr now lives in Croatia – where he is free to play online poker – and has amassed more than $2 million in online earnings under the name of “PureProfitFo[11] to compliment the $2.5 million he has captured by playing in live poker tournaments [12].

There are not many other notable poker players that originate from the Hoosier State, and you have to go a long way back to find Indiana´s last bracelet winner at the World Series of Poker – Ron Long beating a field of 170 players to win the 7 Card Stud Hi/Lo title in 199 for $170,000 [13]. Indiana ladies featured quite prominently in the all-time money list and “Hoosierres” to look out for in the future include Patricia Till, Diane Dines and Jessica Dawley.

The Prospects of Indiana Online Poker being Regulated in the Future

Practically none. As mentioned above, online poker in Indiana is going to remain technically illegal until there is a major shift in state or federal policy. Declining tax revenues from brick and mortar casinos in Indiana will likely have the effect of expanding existing laws for live poker venues, while the federal government is more likely to be debating an online gambling ban in the near future [14] rather than introduce legislation to regulate online poker nationwide.


[1] – Governor Opposes Plan to Expand Gambling in Indiana
[2] Indiana Code §35-45-5-2
[3] Wikipedia – French Lick Resort Casino
[4] General Provisions of the Indiana Gaming Commission Title 68 IAC §1-1-69
[5] Powers and Duties of Indiana Gaming Commission IC § 4-33-4-27
[6] Shelbyville News – “Indiana Grand Officials Lobby for Live Dealers”
[7] Journal Gazette – “Indiana´s Lottery Jackpot”
[8] Wikipedia – French Lick Indiana
[9] A History of Gambling in East Chicago
[10] IndyStar – Indiana Casino Taxes take Plunge
[11] PocketFives Database – Mclean Karr
[12] Hendon Mob Database – Mclean Karr
[13] 30th World Series of Poker – May 1999
[14] The Hill – Graham, Chaffetz Push Online Gambling Ban