Beware: Backgammon May Be Illegal In Your State

For over 70 years, Alabama law prohibited the playing of any games with cards or dice in public. No one had ever been prosecuted for playing backgammon……until an ambitious sheriff decided it was worth a try. In 1876, Charles Wetmore settled down with a friend for a game of backgammon at a railway station, but wound up being arrested. In the end, Wetmore was saved by the Supreme Court’s decision to toss the case, ruling that backgammon did not depend entirely on the roll of the dice. Today, almost 150 years later, the legal status of backgammon is still in doubt because of varying interpretations of anti-gambling laws. In many states, gambling laws don’t specifically mention the game of backgammon, leaving prosecution solely up to municipalities. Most states have statutes that say a person engages in gambling when he/she stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance. In New York and California, backgammon is not considered a game of chance, while in Pennsylvania, where gambling statutes strictly prohibit any gambling activity, authorities from the district attorney's offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh disagree sharply on backgammon's legal status. As backgammon continues to grow in popularity, its legal status must be clarified. Meanwhile, until the game becomes specifically defined as a game of chance or skill, it remains submerged in the gray area of anti-gambling laws.