Like many state, Ohio does not have any statute specifically authorizing or prohibiting online poker. Although the state indicated in early 2012 it might consider the issue, it had not done so by mid-2013.
That leaves online poker players to wade through existing anti-gambling laws to deduce whether or not online poker is legal in Ohio. As mentioned above, poker is definitely a “casino game” for purposes of the law, but anti-gambling statutes in Ohio target operators rather than players. The mere act of playing online poker would not seem to run afoul of the law.
The situation for operators is less clear. Setting up an online poker site in Ohio without a license is clearly illegal. Offering online poker to Ohio residents from servers located outside of the state is a very murky area of the law. A colorable argument can be made for either side of the issue, but as it’s never been litigated in Ohio courts, the outcome is impossible to predict.
As per Article 15, Section 6(c) of the Ohio Constitution, casino gaming — including poker — is legal in Ohio as long as it is played in a licensed Ohio casino. Those facilities are all licensed by the state’s Casino Control Commission; there are no tribal casinos in Ohio.
Under Ohio’s Casino Control Act, all “casino games” are subject to licensing and regulation. A casino game is defined as a slot machine or a table game; a table game includes “any game played with cards”. Even if there were any ambiguity on this point, the Casino Control Act further defines “casino gaming” as any type of slot machine or table game wagering authorized in Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Poker is authorized in all of those states.
By constitutional mandate, only four casinos are authorized in the state, in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toledo and Franklin County (though racetracks are authorized to offer video lottery terminals). All four of the casinos feature a poker room.
Outside of casinos, poker is defined as a “game of chance” in Ohio under Ohio Revised Code §2915.01. As such, it is subject to state anti-gambling laws that prohibit promoting or operating games for profit or engaging in gambling as a professional. By negative inference, then, home games are legal in Ohio – or better said, they aren’t illegal, as there’s no statute criminalizing that activity so long as nobody profits from hosting the game.