On several occasions I have had two or more deaf people at the same table who use ASL during the hand. This has always sparked a little debate with staff and players on if this is allowed under the English-only rule at most poker rooms.

Roberts rule book suggests: 28. Speaking a foreign language during a deal is not allowed.

However the wording of the rule in many casinos includes the word "English".

  • Any deaf poker players out there?
    – Jon
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 2:13

2 Answers 2


This is not the first time I have asked this question. I think it is interesting and important to the poker industry. I had an email exchange with a friend of mine about a year ago about this. My friend was a poker dealer for about ten years and since has become an ASL interpreter over the last 20 years or so. We really did not draw a conclusion, here is our conversation.


So something came up at work today that made me think of you. I do believe that you may be the most qualified person in the world to answer this question.

We had a group of five deaf people who communicated with ASL sit in the game today. One of the other players was a little uneasy with the signing during a hand, or so I was told, one of my dealers said something to the deaf people. The deaf players took it ok, it was not a real problem. So me, the dealer and the card room assistant manger had a little off to the side debate about it.

We of course have the English only rule at the table. The manager and the dealer argued that the rule was in effect. I argued that the deaf people had legal protection, and that the protection trumps the English only rule. I said that if push came to shove, like if someone had told them they could not sign at the table and if they did they could not play in the poker game, that doing so would leave us in violation of the ADA*. I have some other thoughts on the whole issue but I would like to hear what you think since you are more qualified. *American With Disabilities Act.


I am not the most qualified, but I'll give it my best shot. ADA states you must provide "reasonable" accommodations. You have an English only rule at the table. Is that any time, in and out of a hand? If so, this is where the accommodation applies. Deaf people need to be able to communicate in sign, but only if they are not in a hand. During the hand the English only rule applies to all, including those using sign to communicate. If you had five deaf people at the table and they were used to playing at home fun poker, they could violate so many rules unintentionally, and that is unfair to those who don't understand sign language. So, if the deaf person had a question or wanted to make a comment (What is that river card? How many chips does he have left?), a notepad could be provided and the dealer could read it aloud. By the same token, though, it would be fair to communicate back if someone says something at the table that gives an advantage for the hearing customers that the deaf person would miss (knowing realistically, though, that would slow up the game). Some deaf people read lips and speak, too. There may be advantages of signing but disadvantages of not hearing, so being somewhat flexible and forgiving during the hand would be an accommodation also, like if a spouse came up to talk for a minute or if the person forgets and signs because that is how he/she naturally communicates, and that will happen, just as with players who native language is other than English; it's only natural. It would be great if the shift manager could learn a few basic signs to give a gentle reminder of the rule. You may want to also change your rule from English only to English speaking only (if in a hand), as not all deaf people use ASL; some sign in English! This is my opinion only and it would probably be best to meet with the casino attorney and an ADA representative to ensure you are complying. One other thing...some deaf/hard of hearing people talk and sign at the same time; the signing just helps them "hear" each other better, so if that is the case that should be allowed during a hand.


I drew a different conclusion from you on this. Remember there was no incident. If I was advocating for the deaf person, I would argue a couple things were wrong with saying they can’t sign during a hand. First I would argue that signing does not break the intent of the rule, which is not to keep people from communicating but to prevent people from colluding with each other. Sign language is recorded by the camera they really could not get away with collusion without leaving evidence. Someone speaking a foreign language could get away with it because once they spoke what they said is gone, a none language speaker could certainly not remember what they said, there is no way to know if what they said was related to the hand or not. Sign language in other words is not suitable as a code language the same way as a foreign language is. The rule does not protect a deaf person at all. If the hearing customer’s complaint is that they do not understand what is being said is legitimate it can also be stated that the deaf person cannot understand what is being said, actually they have a bigger threat to the security of their game then the hearing player. Yet the deaf person has a burden of obeying a rule that does nothing to protect them. What I am getting at with this, is that allowing people to talk is as insecure or more to the deaf players as allowing deaf people to sign is to the hearing players, therefore telling the deaf they cannot sign is just lopsided. You mentioned the ADA term of reasonable accommodation. I think it is unreasonable accommodation to tell a deaf person that they cannot communicate what is normal to them, especially when such a ban leaves the deaf person at the same disadvantage the hearing person is complaining they are at. Communicating and sign language is not the same as communicating in a none English language. I would say that the rule only applies to verbal language. I would argue that the way we reasonably accommodate everyone is subjecting sign language to video review rather than banning sign language. I think it places everyone on a more level playing field.


Interesting perspective. I like it; I had forgotten how intelligent and compassionate you were. To play devil’s advocate… If a hearing person breaches the rule that leaves the deaf person(s) at a disadvantage, it is instantly heard and as a reasonable accommodation that could/should immediately be communicated (in writing?) to the deaf person(s). However, if a deaf person does this, no one knows until there is a complaint. Then, you have to, what, stop the game, hire an interpreter, wait for the interpreter to arrive to review the video and, if it isn't resolved at that point, take further steps? This seems quite expensive with lost time and costs incurred, and not reasonable. Suppose it is a friendly low limit game and two deaf players and three hearing players are in a hand and the deaf players are just chatting in sign language and one happens to win the hand. All it takes is one person to say, “I think they were colluding” to begin the above procedure. Aside from collusion, I know that much about the game can still leave a deaf person at a disadvantage in general, as we learn much from conversations (a hearing player who knows no English would be at a somewhat similar disadvantage). However, we also learn a great deal, and some say more, from body language and tells. As a former sign language interpreter and teacher who had many deaf students in her class, I feel honored to have learned so much about Deaf Culture and have a great respect for it and I agree, it is not right to prohibit players from chatting in a language that is natural for them if they cannot communicate in spoken English but, along those lines, as a former English learner teacher I feel the same in that this should then also apply to hearing players who speak no English whatsoever (I have dealt hands in this situation). Is it fair to not allow them what is natural, too? No, but casinos prohibit it. Why wouldn't the same, then, apply to deaf persons who communicate in ASL, recognized as a language other than English (even with the video review option)? Neither is perhaps right but not only one should be enforced. The purpose of ADA is so that persons with disabilities have equal access as much as possible with their disability, not to have preferential treatment (i.e., a teacher who doesn't know sign allowing two deaf students to sign with each other during a lecture but not allowing the hearing students to talk to each other). Again, if a casino enforces the English only rule it should only be during a hand. You allow persons to communicate in their native languages if they are not in a hand, don’t you? I hope so! BTW, I have witnessed deaf students and have been informed about hearing English learners communicating in their native languages innocently and unknowingly exchanging information they shouldn't and they just needed a gentle reminder but I have also witnessed and been informed about a few intentionally colluding by using their native languages because they thought no one was aware of their conversations. Remember, all of this is just some alternate thoughts on the matter from me and, ultimately, worthless. In addition to having this discussion with the casino attorney and an ADA representative, it would be important to include deaf poker players. I was going to ask some deaf and hearing people I know qualified to comment on ADA and deaf rights but I don’t believe they understand the culture of poker and that would be important.

  • I think the ADA is a legit reason why you should allow deaf players to use ASL to communicate. Besides, if players were intent on using some set of signs in an attempt to collude or otherwise cheat, I think they'd be best served by something a little more secretive. Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 1:46

Id say no, but only because of special circumstances. Otherwise the rule would hold.

The premise is that everyone at the table should be able to understand what is being said. With English being the most accessible language to the most people, that's why the rule denotes English. However, if everyone could use sign language then there wouldn't be a problem. Same thing goes for any other language.

  • There could even still be problems if everyone knew sign language. It's much easier to make a hand gesture that only one other person notices, than it is to say something and have only one other person hear you speak.
    – Paul
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 15:33
  • I agree that deaf or mute players should be excepted from the rule, based on the fact that they may not be able to learn spoken English at all. However, its a tough decision, since they can likely lip read, giving them a bit of an advantage, since they can understand the other players' conversations, but the other players can't understand theirs.
    – Paul
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 15:40

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