OLR Research Report

February 11, 2003




By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst

You asked if off-reservation casino-type games, such as blackjack, that do not involve the exchange of money or anything of value are legally permissible at school-sponsored events in Connecticut in light of the act abolishing Las Vegas nights (PA 03-1, January 2003 Special Session).

This office is not authorized to give legal opinions and this memo should not be construed as such.

We do not have a definitive answer to your question. But it appears that schools may not use gambling devices to play casino-type games because it is illegal to possess such devices, and the law that exempted schools from the ban on gambling devices under certain conditions has been repealed. Because of the way “gambling device” is defined, it is not clear if the law's prohibition on the possession of gambling devices would apply to cards.

In repealing the Las Vegas night statutes, the legislature repealed the statutory authority of high school seniors and juniors, and their guests who are at least age 16, to play certain casino-type games at Las Vegas night social events sponsored either by their school or a group of their parents, teachers, or administrators, if, among other things, nothing of value was being wagered (CGS 7-186a(c) as amended by PA 03-1, January 2003 Special Session).

PA 03-1, January 2003 Special Session, changed the definition of gambling, which is a Class B misdemeanor, by (1) eliminating the exemption for Las Vegas nights and (2) explicitly including casino gambling such as blackjack, poker, craps, roulette, and slot machines. It also eliminated the exemption for gambling devices used in connection with legally authorized nonprofit gambling from the ban on gambling devices.

As under prior law, the definition of gambling includes “risking any money, credit, deposit or other thing of value for gain contingent in whole or in part upon lot, chance or the operation of a gambling device . . . .” Professional gambling, a Class A misdemeanor, includes “accepting or offering to accept, for profit, money, credits, deposits or other things of value risked in gambling.” Gambling device includes any device or mechanism by the operation of which a right to money, credits, deposits or other things of value may be created, as the result of the operation of an element of chance . . . any device, mechanism, furniture or fixture designed primarily for use in connection with professional gambling . . . .” With minor exceptions (not pertinent here), it is a class A misdemeanor to possess a gambling device (CGS 53-278c).

Since by definition, both gambling and professional gambling involve risking money or something of value, it does appear that games, such as card games, may be legally permissible at school-sponsored events when played under circumstances where nothing of value is risked or wagered. On the other hand, because the definition of gambling devices does not include the element of risk, it appears that such devices are not permissible under any circumstances. We have found no case in which the court has been asked to determine whether cards are either a “device” or “mechanism” for purpose of the law making the possession of gambling devices and mechanisms illegal.

The attorney general's office has suggested that the chief state's attorney's office may be the appropriate office to respond to this question, which involves an interpretation of a criminal law violation. As far as we were able to determine, the Division of Special Revenue does not appear to have an official position on the issue. Its unofficial position appears to be that while certain card games played at school-sponsored games may not violate the law, games such as blackjack, specifically included in the definition of gambling in PA 01-3, January 2003 Special Session, would be a violation.

CGS 53-278b exempts people from prosecution “for any game, wager or transaction which is incidental to a bona fide social relationship, is participated in by natural persons only and in which no person is participating, directly or indirectly, in professional gambling.” We found no case interpreting “social relationship” for purposes of this law, and we do not know how a court would interpret this in the context of card games being played by students, teachers, and parents at a graduation or other similar event.