Kentucky Gambling Laws

It may be hard to believe that gambling isn’t a staple in the great state of Kentucky, largely due to the fact that it arguably hosts the most popular horse racing (and horse wagering) event – the Kentucky Derby – but, in fact, it isn’t.  The conservative state offers much in the way of horse racing and betting but takes a more contemptuous approach toward other forms of gambling like poker. Although legal poker exists in the state, there are so many restrictions that one could argue it really is state that allow poker but a form with no bite, so to speak.  Running afoul of the restrictions can lead to serious repercussions such as incarceration and heavy fines.

Kentucky’s general anti-wagering approach stems from its deep, conservative, Christian-oriented values.  Whereas individuals may play poker in the home, it is still very much illegal to play poker for profit.  So legal social gambling can very easily and quickly turn into illegal gambling if even one person decides to wager monetary bets.  However, this, of course, presumes that a friend or family member would have to turn the illegal gambler in to the authorities, which is not likely.  As a result, such misdemeanor offenses often aren’t prosecuted because they often aren’t discovered by the authorities.  This, plus, law enforcement and prosecutors typically have more important matters to pursue and litigate. Due to the fact that Kentucky does not have facilities at which to play slot machines, such as casinos, and therefore, alcohol procurement and underage consumption is not an issue, the minimum gambling age is 18 years rather than the standard of 21 years.

More specifically, laws based on distinguishing legal from illegal wagering in the home – a popular location of such games — especially as it applies to poker, concerns whether one or more people act to “promote gambling.”  While ignorance of the law is not an excuse from following it, prosecutors typically have more compassion for those who innocently run afoul of it and harm no one rather than those who flagrantly flout the rules.  Section 528.030 of the Penal Code notes that an individual has promoted gambling “When he knowingly advances or profits from unlawful gambling activity.” The more egregious the promotion is, the greater the fines and possibility of incarceration.  Generally speaking, only these promotion offenses lead to felony charges.

Online Gambling

Considering that Kentucky is such a conservative state, it should not shock anyone that online gambling is not welcomed and not legal.  In 2008, former Governor Beshear noted that online gambling sites are “leeches on our communities.”  In addition, they also “unfairly undermine Kentucky’s horse racing industry.” That mentality still very much exists in 2014.

Recent Developments

Although the political powers that be definitely take issue with gambling, especially the online form, the State’s Supreme Court is not exactly aligned with that thinking.  In a case that has been in the process of litigation for several years, the Court unanimously ruled that the agency has the power to regulate racing facilities because they have been utilizing illegal slot machines.  However, while the machines are illegal, that wagers were not necessarily illegal as well.  Gambling advocates considered the ruling a positive step.



  • Patton, J. (2014, February 20). Kentucky Supreme Court says Instant Racing can beRegulated, Doesn’t Rule on Legality. Retrieved from

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