"Texas Hold 'Em" Poker Tournaments

From time to time our office receives inquiries from Licensee regarding the legality of hosting a "Texas Hold 'Em" poker tournament on the licensed premises.

For those readers who are unaware of this card game, "Texas Hold 'Em" is a type of poker game in which common cards are used by the participants. Like most games of poker the objective of "Texas Hold 'Em" is to win a pot of money formed by bets by individual participants. The upside to this type of poker game is that many more participants can be included in any one pot. Theoretically, up to twenty-two participants can play in one pot.

The PLCB regulations state that a licensee cannot participate in unlawful gambling, either directly or indirectly, on the licensed premises. Any violation of these regulations will result in the licensee being held strictly liable for such activity. The fact that a licensee may not have had knowledge that unlawful gambling was being conducted on the licensed premises is not relevant.

Unlawful gambling is not defined in the Liquor Code. Instead, one must look to the Crimes Code and its interpreting case law for guidance. Pursuant to case law the courts have interpreted unlawful gambling to consist of the following three elements: an entry fee or charge to play, an element of chance, and a reward or prize. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, in deciding a liquor code violation, has held that poker being played for money on a licensed premises is gambling.

Even if the "Texas Hold 'Em" tournament passed Crimes Code scrutiny and is deemed not to be unlawful gambling, in order for a licensee to hold such a tournament it must be self-sponsored by the licensee. Self-sponsored means paid for and carried out by the licensee. Also, the total value of prizes for the tournament in any one day period may not exceed $500.00. The total value of prizes awarded in any seven day period may not exceed $5,000.00. Furthermore, the following rules apply: no unlawful gambling, either directly or indirectly may be associated with the tournament; consumption of alcohol by the participants is prohibited; the price of admission may not include a charge for or entitle the participant to receive an alcoholic beverage; and licensees must maintain records of the prizes and winners on the licensed premises for two years following the tournament.

In summary, if the "Texas Hold 'Em" tournament is deemed to be unlawful gambling, it cannot be held on the licensed premises. If the tournament passes the unlawful gambling scrutiny, it may be held on the licensed premises subject to the rules aforesaid.

If you have any questions regarding "Texas Hold 'Em" tournament issues, please contact me at (717) 775-7195 or contact us here.


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