Kentucky Gambling Sites - A Guide to Gambling in Kentucky
For the last 143 years, the eyes of the American gambling public have shifted to the Bluegrass State where the Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville has hosted the Kentucky Derby since 1875.
Billions of dollars in wagers have been placed on the "Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" over that span, which might lead one to believe that Kentucky is the hotbed of gambling activity.
In reality though, Kentucky's strict gambling laws ensure that exactly zero casinos, commercial or otherwise, can be built, while poker and greyhound racing are also banned.
It all began with the framing of Kentucky's fourth Constitution in 1891, which includes the following passage to prohibit gambling through the methods common in that era:
"Lotteries and gift enterprises are forbidden, and no privileges shall be granted for such purpose, and none shall be exercised, and no schemes for similar purposes shall be allowed."
Things have obviously changed in more than 120 years since then, but the state's laws still leave little in the way of legalized gambling - outside of the ponies of course.
When it comes to non-horseracing forms of legal gambling in Kentucky, you have a state lottery and bingo halls to choose from. Then, there's social and charitable gambling, which covers things like home poker games, bingo or raffles held by churches and the like.
Unless you like chasing superfectas and such, formal gambling options in the state are few and far between.
In a clever workaround to these laws, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission decided in 2010 to alter its regulations on pari-mutuel betting - allowing for wagers on historical races. In doing so, the Commission opted to deploy Video Gaming Machines (VGMs) to provide the interface that bettors use to place wagers.
Instead of virtual ponies racing down the track, Kentucky's VGMs are designed to replicate the experience provided by slots and video poker machines. That means pressing buttons, watching a screen dispense results and hoping your numbers come in - complete with bells, whistles and jackpot payouts.
This helped bridge the gap between Kentucky's casino ban and a clear demand for Las Vegas style gambling, but the state still lags far behind regional neighbors like Missouri, Ohio and North Carolina.
Even so, everyone from residents to visitors could use a guide to gambling in Kentucky, which is where we come in. This page provides a thorough introduction on the legal statutes currently in place, along with the historical path they took to get here. Other topics of interest include the online gambling industry's legal status in the state, a listing of brick and mortar gambling venues and a few frequently answered questions to help readers expand their base of knowledge on this tricky subject.
Read on to learn all about the laws governing gambling games in Kentucky, which represents a crossroads of sorts between gamble happy states like Nevada and strict no man's lands like Utah.
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Online Gambling and Kentucky Law
The Commonwealth of Kentucky has a complicated relationship with the online gambling industry, as you'll learn in greater detail below.
An infamous court battle in 2008 saw the Governor's office attempt to seize more than a hundred online gambling domain names - even though none of them were operating from inside the state. Sure, they were serving Kentuckians, but these sites were largely located offshore. Years later, the courts ruled against Kentucky, but that hasn't led to any sort of shift toward a policy of legalization and regulation.
That decade old ordeal was a direct result of a disastrous federal law known as the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006. Congress slipped the UIGEA into an unrelated bill to support spending for port security, knowing that it would pass with little to no opposition, and seemingly overnight - with no debate or discussion on the subject - the federal government enacted a blanket ban over online gambling.
Fortunately for the millions of Americans who place wagers of one type or another online, the UIGEA applied to the business side only, penalizing operators for conducting business - while not paying taxes - within the U.S. Even so, the UIGEA put a huge dent in a thriving industry, forcing sites like PartyPoker to pick up stakes and withdrawal from the U.S. market entirely.
Players were left with unregulated offshore sites as the most readily available online gambling option, the very same sites that Kentucky's government tried to take down back in 2008. While most of these sites are on the level - providing legitimate casino games, slots and poker while paying winners promptly - a few "rogue" platforms took full advantage of the regulation free market.
The UIGEA relied on a federal law known as the Wire Act of 1961, which prohibited sports betting via telephone, as lawmakers made the stretch from phones to dial up Internet, and then to all online activity. In a brief respite from the bad news, that interpretation of the Wire Act was reversed in 2011, when the Department of Justice ruled that the law only applied to sports betting-not casino games or poker.
Overnight, individual states were freed from the shackles of UIGEA and granted the right to establish their own online gambling regulations. So far, Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware are the only states to take the invitation, but their successful markets now provide a template for similar legislation proposed in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, California and elsewhere.
Sadly, that elsewhere doesn't include Kentucky just yet, so players there are left to choose from hundreds of offshore sites still operating in the U.S. market. Choosing a platform can be a difficult task indeed, what with the eclectic mix of software providers, licensing bodies, regulatory agencies and ownership groups.
Throw in shady operators that sully the good name of an entire industry, and players always seem to face an uphill climb. We're here to help you make that climb by pointing you in the right direction towards a few of our favorite online gambling providers.
Sites like (X), (Y), and (Z)* are all well-established venues that have been in the gaming industry for years, or even decades. Over that span, each platform has stood the test of time, serving customers day in and day out with little in the way of complaints. That's a product of dedicated customer service, transparent bonus and promotion systems and a commitment to game integrity - all ingredients that players should be on the lookout for.
Read on to learn more about the actual laws that cover online gambling in Kentucky, along with everything a player needs to know before bringing their bankroll to the Bluegrass State.
Is Online Gambling Legal in Kentucky?
Well, yes and no... and we know that's not a definitive answer, so allow us to explain.
Kentucky has no statutes on the books that specifically address gambling via the Internet. That's quite common across America, as most states were slow on the upkeep during the online gambling industry's rise before deferring to federal law after the UIGEA of 2006 was enacted.
Lacking a law that explicitly addresses online gambling though means that such wagers simply can't be classified as illegal. Conversely, without statute that explicitly legalizes online gambling, such wagers can't be classified as legal.
This is the "grey zone" that online gambling experts typically refer to when studying state laws. That's why we answered "yes and no" above - as both are technically true. In terms of actual legal statutes, Kentucky is actually on the lax side when compared to other states because their law's definition of a "gambling device" is specifically limited to slot machines, roulette wheels and genuine casino equipment.
See for yourself by reviewing Section 528.010 (4) of the Kentucky Revised Statutes, which provides definitions for illegal gambling devices (emphasis added):
"Any so-called slot machine or any other machine or mechanical device an essential part of which is a drum or reel with insignia thereon, and which when operated may deliver, as a result of the application of an element of chance, any money or property, or by the operation of which a person may become entitled to receive, as the result of the application of an element of chance, any money or property; or
(b) Any other machine or any mechanical or other device, including but not limited to roulette wheels, gambling tables and similar devices, designed and manufactured primarily for use in connection with gambling and which when operated may deliver, as the result of the application of an element of chance, any money or property, or by the operation of which a person may become entitled to receive, as the result of the application of an element of chance, any money or property."
As you can see, the first definition applies specifically to slot machines, but it's the second definition that matters in this context.
Unlike other states that ban all devices used in the commission of gambling (which extends to desktop or laptop computers and mobile devices), Kentucky law limits its ban to devices that are "designed and manufactured primarily for use in connection with gambling."
Clearly, an Internet connected device that happens to enable online gambling wasn't designed specifically for that purpose - it just happens to hold that capability. Accordingly, we feel highly confident telling readers that online gambling is surely not a crime in Kentucky - while simultaneously stating that it's not legal either.
With all that said, the fine folks in charge of the Commonwealth back in 2008 didn't seem to agree, as Kentucky petitioned the courts to seize 141 domain names related to online gambling. Those included popular sites of the day like AbsolutePoker.com, Bodog.com, Bookmaker.com, DoylesRoom.com, FullTilt.com and UltimateBet.com - all of which the government claimed were illegal gambling devices.
The attack came at the behest of Governor Steve Beshear, who, in an ironic twist actually, ran on a platform that included online gambling legalization. Rather than follow through on his pledge, Beshear backtracked, and attempted to ban the entire industry for Kentuckians in one full swoop.
Thankfully, following a court battle that dragged on through six years and several appellate courts, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled that domain names do no constitute gambling devices under the law.
That ruling effectively put an end to the state's costly court battle, and Beshear's time as Governor ended in 2015 due to term limits. Thus, online gambling in Kentucky remains, as it ever was, in the fateful grey zone.
Are Offshore Gambling Sites Safe?
That all depends on which offshore gambling sites in particular you're referring to. Obviously, sites like Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker fall under the category of "unsafe," due to their highly publicized insider cheating scandals and other unscrupulous shenanigans.
Unfortunately, many folks out there judge the entire online gambling industry based on the actions of a few outliers - letting the proverbial "bad apples" spoil the entire bunch. But what about platforms like like (X), (Y), and (Z)* - all of which have maintained sterling reputations within the player community for several years or decades running? *Fill in with preferred geolocated sites, as per instruction.
The sad fact is, most people tend to focus on the negative when assessing any situation, let alone a financial transaction based on gambling. What happens when we take a wider view, and consider the millions upon millions of Americans - and tens of millions more around the world - who regularly enjoy casino games, slots, poker, bingo, sports betting and daily fantasy sports (DFS) via the Internet?
At that point, it becomes quite clear that most online gambling sites out there today are doing something right. After all, players wouldn't continue to line up and deposit their hard earned funds to play a game that's rigged.
Thankfully for players in 2017, the phenomenon known as "market correction" has worked wonders. Players who have been burned by a particular site have plenty of forums to publicize their experiences and warn fellow players in the process. Sites like this are chief among them, but the Internet is full of resources for online gamblers to compare platforms, read player generated reviews and make an informed spending decision.
You're already on the right path as a reader of this page, so keep up the good work and continue your due diligence! Research your prospective online gambling providers through multiple resources, and look for things like prompt payout periods, affiliation with established software providers, licensing and regulatory oversight by respected agencies and, of course, longevity.
When a site has been around for a significant period of time, and continues to chug along without issue, it's more than likely that the platform is doing everything above board.
Can I Get Arrested for Gambling Online in Kentucky?
We suppose you could, but it would mark a historic turn of events. No records documenting online gambling related arrests in Kentucky were located during our comprehensive search, which leads us to believe that local authorities in the state aren't focused on nabbing players.
Indeed, a close inspection of the Kentucky Revised Statutes shows that players are immune to prosecution for gambling related crimes, as Section 528.010 (7) demonstrates (emphasis added):
"'Player' means a person who engages in any form of gambling solely as a contestant or bettor, without receiving or becoming entitled to receive any profit therefrom other than personal gambling winnings, and without otherwise rendering any material assistance to the establishment, conduct, or operation of the particular gambling activity."
A person who engages in "bookmaking" as defined in subsection (2) of this section is not a "player." The status of a 'player' shall be a defense to any prosecution under this chapter."
That's an unequivocal statement found in Kentucky law which shows that the state has no interest in arresting, charging and prosecuting players who enjoy gambling games - online or otherwise.
Now, if you were to do something like launch your own online casino, poker room or sportsbook, you'd find yourself in hot water with local authorities. That's because Section 528.010 (8) provides a clear distinction between players and those who profit from gambling activity (emphasis added):
"A person 'profits from gambling activity' when, other than as a player, he accepts or receives or agrees to accept or receive money or other property pursuant to an agreement or understanding with any person whereby he participates or is to participate in the proceeds of gambling activity."
So, if you confine your online gambling activity exclusively to placing wagers rather than taking them, you have absolutely no legal ramifications to fear from Kentucky cops.
Breaking down what exactly is or isn't legal in Kentucky. Gambling Venues in Kentucky
Where to gamble in the state of Kentucky. The History of Gaming Laws in Kentucky
A brief history of Kentucky laws regarding gambling. Kentucky Gambling FAQs
A list of questions asked about gambling in Kentucky Additional Information
Still have questions? Check out these links. The Future of Gambling in Kentucky
What does the future of gambling look like in Kentucky?
More Gambling Laws in Kentucky
The primary set of laws covering gambling in the state can be found in Chapter 528 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes. Here, you'll find definitions for all conceivable gambling activity, along with the associated penalties for each crime.
As we've mentioned already, Kentucky authorities are only concerned with punishing people who run gambling games-not those who participate as players.
That focus is evident from the get go, as Section 528.10 (1-2) provides succinct definitions for "advancing gambling activity" and "bookmaking" - otherwise known as being a bookie:
"(1) A person 'advances gambling activity' when, acting other than as a player, he engages in conduct that materially aids any form of gambling activity.
(2) 'Bookmaking' means advancing gambling activity by unlawfully accepting bets upon the outcome of future contingent events from members of the public as a business."
That first section forms the basis for Kentucky's blanket ban on commercial or tribal casinos.
As far as gambling itself goes, Section 528.10 (3a) limits the crime to wagering on outcomes that are reliant predominantly on chance, rather than skill:
"(3) (a) 'Gambling' means staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device which is based upon an element of chance, in accord with an agreement or understanding that someone will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome."
A contest or game in which eligibility to participate is determined by chance and the ultimate winner is determined by skill shall not be considered to be gambling."
The same section includes a crucial addendum that exempts games of chance played for charitable purposes. So, activities like bingo night at the Rotary Club or a "parent's poker night" to support the local school are permitted.
Even if you find yourself frequenting a real money poker game, underground casino or any other forum for illegal gambling, Kentucky law offers protection for players. Under Section 528.10 (7), status as a player exclusively, and not an operator, provides immunity from prosecution when it comes to illegal gambling (emphasis added):
"'Player' means a person who engages in any form of gambling solely as a contestant or bettor, without receiving or becoming entitled to receive any profit therefrom other than personal gambling winnings, and without otherwise rendering any material assistance to the establishment, conduct, or operation of the particular gambling activity.
A person who engages in 'bookmaking' as defined in subsection (2) of this section is not a 'player.'
The status of a 'player' shall be a defense to any prosecution under this chapter."
If you're interested in Kentucky's wide range of horse racing laws, the relevant statutes can be found under Chapter 230 of the state code. There you'll find several dozen subsections, but the most relevant are listed below:
- General Provisions (Sections 230.010 through 230.335)
- Pari-Mutuel Wagering (Sections 230.361 through 230.375)
- Interstate Racing and Wagering Compacts (Sections 230.3761 through 230.3765)
- Simulcasting and Intertrack Wagering (Sections 230.377 through 230.397)
- Penalties (Section 230.990)
Gambling Venues in Kentucky
In a state with no commercial or tribal casinos, your options for brick and mortar gambling venues are limited to horseracing tracks and bingo halls. Fortunately, a few of these are home to video gaming machines (VGMs), which look, feel and play just like the slots and video poker games you know and love. These VGMs avoid the slot machine prohibition by using historical horserace data to provide the basis for random number generation. That's a whole different topic to tackle, but rest assured, you'll still be spinning the reels and hoping to hit jackpots - just under a different method of dispensing random results. They're the exception, not the rule though, so we'll let you know when a venue has VGMs down below.
These listings highlight a few of Kentucky's major racetracks, beginning with the mother of them all, Churchill Downs - along with a pair where VGMs can be found by the hundreds:
1. Churchill Downs
Type: Horseracing Track
Table Games: 0
Location: 700 Central Ave, Louisville, KY 40208
Phone: (502) 636 - 4400
2. Kentucky Downs
Type: Horseracing Track
Table Games: 0
Location: 5629 Nashville Rd, Franklin, KY 42134
Phone: (270) 586-7778
3. Ellis Park
Type: Horseracing Track
Table Games: 0
Location: 3300 US-41, Henderson, KY 42420
Phone: (812) 425-1456
Type: Horseracing Track
Opened: Unknown Average Number of Table Games: 0
Location: 150 Downs Dr, Paducah, KY 42001
Phone: (270) 444-7117
As for the state's network of bingo halls, it includes hundreds of Elks Lodges, Rotary Clubs and other community gathering centers.
Finally, if you're not satisfied without the full-fledged casino experience, Kentucky has several major venues found just outside its borders.
If you live in or near Lexington, we'd head up to Belterra Casino Resort, located just over the Indiana border in city of Florence.
For those near Bowling Green, both the Tropicana Evansville and the Isle Casino Cape Girardeau are right across the borders of Indiana and Missouri, respectively.
To the south, Harrah's Cherokee maintains two casinos in North Carolina. If you're heading north out of Kentucky, try Hollywood Casino in Columbus, Ohio.
History of Gambling in Kentucky
The first running of the Kentucky Derby is held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, where more than 10,000 spectators watched Aristides cross the finish line first.
Kentucky's Supreme Court rules that horseracing does not violate the constitutional ban on lotteries.
Voters turn out with more than 60 percent in favor of establishing the Kentucky State Lottery.
A Constitutional amendment is added to exempt gambling activites, such as bingo, raffles, and spin the wheel, when conducted for charitable purposes.
Kentucky Horse Racing Commission revises its definitions for pari-mutuel horseracing to include wagers on historical, or previouisly ran, races. These historical races are presented to players through slot machine stlye video gaming machines (VGMs), which began appearing at venues like Ellis Park and Kenducky Downs in 2011.
The state's fourth Constitution, which includes an explicit ban on lotteries and other forms of gambling, is ratified.
Congress authorizes the Interstate Horseracing Act, which allows bettors anywhere in America to place waers on events like the Kentucky Derby. This law greatly expands the volume of Derby betting, and eventually paves the way for an amendment allowin for online horserace wagers.
Lottery tickets go on sale throughout the state for the first time.
The federal Interstate Horseracing Act is amended to allow wagering via the Internet.
A series of casino gambling expansion bills are proposed, and shot down, each year.
Kentucky Gambling FAQ
After soaking in so much information about such a dense topic like state gambling laws, chances are good you have some questions rolling around upstairs.
That's a good thing too, as it means you're thinking critically about the knowledge you've just absorbed. We tried hard to think one step ahead, anticipating what those questions might be, so take a look below and see if we've answered what's on your mind:
Not in the slightest, as Chapter 238 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes provides comprehensive exemptions for charitable gambling games.
Section 238.505 (2) provides the definition of charitable gambling, so begin there when advising your granny on how to run her game:
"'Charitable gaming' means bingo, charity game tickets, raffles, and charity fundraising events conducted for fundraising purposes by charitable organizations licensed and regulated under the provisions of this chapter.
'Charitable gaming' shall not include slot machines, electronic video gaming devices, wagering on live sporting events, or simulcast broadcasts of horse races."
As long as she's playing bingo, and not spreading casino style machines or tables, it's all perfectly legal.
And under Section 238.505 (3), her church is specifically labeled as a legal forum for charitable gambling, as are schools, libraries, community centers, clubs, and veteran's centers:
"'Charitable organization' means a nonprofit entity organized for charitable, religious, educational, literary, civic, fraternal, or patriotic purposes."
Finally, just in case she's been experimenting video bingo or another newfangled form of the game (it is 2017 after all), take a look at Section 238.505 (4) to see exactly how legal charitable bingo is played in Kentucky:
"'Bingo' means a specific game of chance in which participants use cards or paper sheets, or card-minding device representations thereof, divided into horizontal and vertical spaces, each of which is designated by a letter and a number, and prizes are awarded on the basis of the letters and numbers on the card conforming to a predetermined and preannounced configuration of letters and numbers selected at random."
As long as she sticks to those confines, your grandmother's charitable bingo bonanza will be completely by the board.
When she gets the itch to compete for real money prizes, Kentucky is home to several full-fledged commercial bingo halls where jackpots are offered.
It certainly does feel like skirting the law, now doesn't it?
Yet, mashing buttons on a machine outfitted with bells and whistles, and even fruit symbols on the reels - all while chasing huge jackpot payouts - is perfectly legal under Kentucky state law.
Back in 2010, while millions of dollars flowed from Kentucky's coffers into casinos in neighboring states, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission made a clever move. By amending their own regulations regarding pari-mutuel wagering, and allowing bettors to put money down on historical races, they found a way to bring casino style gaming to the state for the first time.
They did it was by allowing racetracks to install video gaming machines (VGMs), which closely resemble slot and video poker machines in both form and function. These machines are then calibrated to dispense random results based on historical horseracing data.
It's all quite complicated, as you might expect, but in effect, these VGMs let you bet on a horse race that took place 10 years back. Obviously, those results are readily available now, so you can't just bet on the winner - you'll be backing a random race with every wager. And in order to provide those randomized results, a random number generator just like the ones housed in slots and video poker machines is used.
With the addition of buttons, reels, symbols and all the sensory delights a slot machine has to offer, Kentucky's VGMs are about as close to the casino experience as you can legally get.
But, as you suggested, that legality is still under scrutiny.
When the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission made the move, it also requested that the courts examine its newly modified pari-mutuel wagering guidelines to make sure they were compliant with state law. The initial court ruling sided with the Commission, stating that VGMs as described were permissible, which prompted anti-gambling crusaders to file an appeal.
That appeal eventually reached the Kentucky Supreme Court, which issued the following split decision in the contentious case:
"We affirm the Franklin Circuit Court's judgment holding that the regulations of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission for licensing of pari-mutuel wagering on historical horse racing are a valid and lawful exercise of the Commission's authority;
We affirm the opinion of the Court of Appeals insofar as it remanded this matter to the Franklin Circuit Court for discovery pursuant to CR 26, and further proceedings relevant to the issue whether the licensed operation of wagering on historical horse racing as contemplated by Appellants constitutes a pari-mutuel form of wagering."
For those not fluent in legal terms, the high court ruled that the initial court ruling - which upheld the Commission's use of VGMs - was correct. At the same time, they remanded the case back to the lower court so that they may study whether VGMs constitute pari-mutuel gambling at all.
As of today, VGMs are flourishing at venues like Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park, but that lower court is continuing its review to determine if they'll need a new set of regulations outside of the pari-mutuel construct.
Most definitely! All thanks to a 2000 amendment to a federal law known as the Interstate Horseracing Act (IHA) of 1978.
The original IHA allowed bettors living outside of a state where a race is being held to place wagers. By 2000, the Internet age was upon us, and the new technology made it vastly easier to get in on the action - removing the need to visit an off track betting parlor.
Recognizing this, Congress amended the IHA to permit horseracing wagers to be placed online. Ever since, Kentuckians - and bettors everywhere for that matter - have been able to get their bets in from the comfort of home.
Still don't believe us? Head here to check out the Kentucky Derby's official website - which includes a dedicated page titled "How to Play at TwinSpires.com and Bet the Kentucky Derby" - to see for yourself.
They say learning is a lifelong process, so we encourage you to conduct your own outside research as you continue to study Kentucky's complicated collection of gambling laws.
The five links compiled below are designed to cover topics like the Kentucky Revised Statutes, the Department of Charitable Gaming and recent efforts to launch a casino industry.
The first link directs you to Chapter 528 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes, which contains all relevant information on non-horseracing gambling law. The second link takes you to Chapter 230, covering all horseracing laws.
The Department of Charitable Gaming in Kentucky (first link) wants everyone to know the rules of the road for setting up legal bingo games, and their handy "Bingo for Dummies" document (second link) contains everything you'll need to know.
Published by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting in February of 2016, "What You Need to Know About the Kentucky Expanded Gaming Proposal" is a tremendous resource for those interested in learning about the state's current status. The bill in question sought to allow up to seven commercial casinos in the state, and while it ultimately failed, it represents the seventh straight year of similar efforts. This page contains a wealth of information about Kentuckians' gambling habits, where the state's gambling dollars really go and how legislators hope to end that divide.
The Future and Your Views
Given the contentious relationship forged with the online gambling industry by Kentucky's previous Governor, the state doesn't seem all that close to achieving regulation anytime soon.
But as we know, the transition from one executive administration to another can usher in sweeping reforms, so where the state goes from here is a mystery.
Recent efforts to pass daily fantasy sports legislation languished in the Kentucky Legislature, but the fact that they were even introduced - and received a majority of votes no less (while falling short of the 40 vote threshold needed for passage) - shows that change is already in the air.
As far as online casinos and poker rooms, a state that doesn't offer those games in the brick and mortar variety is probably still far from taking the full online gambling leap.
Even so, Kentuckians aren't averse to gambling via the Internet, as proven by the influx of Kentucky Derby wagers placed through authorized internet providers. The state is ripe for reform, so we invite readers to make their voices heard loud and clear. A single click on our poll below will let the world know exactly where Kentucky stands on legalization and regulation of online gambling.
The gambling laws in any jurisdiction or region around the world are subject to change. We've strived to ensure that the information on this page is accurate, but you should always check your local laws before engaging in any form of gambling activity.