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Online Poker Legislation in the United States

The latest poker news from, featuring top stories from around the gambling industry.

Online Poker Legislation in the United States

The simple truth is that the United States does not have any federal law that makes online poker illegal, which may surprise some of you USA poker players. No one playing online poker in the US has ever been arrested, charged, or prosecuted just for playing his/her favorite games online.

The difference between is online poker legal or not depends 100% on the state level. The US states that are strongly against online gambling are: Montana, Illinois, Indiana, Utah, Maryland, and Washington.

Is Online Gambling Legal in the US?

Before December 2011, opponents of online gambling cited the Wire Act of 1961 to state their belief that it was illegal in the United States. The Federal Wire Act states:

Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest, or for the transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of bets or wagers, or for information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

For several years, the US Department of Justice stated that the Federal Wire Act included not only online sports betting, but also online casino games and online poker. Gaming advocates, however, begged to differ and in December 2011, the Department of Justice clarified that the act applies only to sporting events, not games such as online poker and online casino games.

Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006

Another important law often quoted while discussing the subject of US online poker legalization is the UIGEA, which does not criminalize the act of playing online poker, but only makes it illegal for banks and other financial bodies to process gambling-related funds. The UIGEA specifically states:

The [UIGEA] prohibits gambling businesses from knowingly accepting payments in connection with the participation of another person in a bet or wager that involves the use of the Internet and that is unlawful under any federal or state law.

The UIGEA has made it extremely difficult for USA players to play poker online poker because most credit and debit cards used to fund online accounts are now declined. Currently, most players use Western Union, Money Gram and Player Transfers to fund online poker accounts and only a handful of poker rooms still provide checks on a regular basis.

Current Laws in Congress

The subject of creating proper online poker laws or, in other words, the legalization and regulation of the online poker industry in the US, has always been hotly debated. While some gambling analysts feel that the US is well on its way to legalize the online gambling industry, others feel that the passage might take much more time.

Congress is divided over the issue; some representatives are eager to regulate the industry, create jobs and provide the necessary securing liquidity that USA players need. Meanwhile other members opposing it on grounds that it will lead to gambling addiction and underage gambling, which a regulated environment would certainly help reduce.

During the past year, several attempts have been made to regulate online poker, but none of them have been successful so far. Currently, there are two bills in congress:

  1. H.R. 1174: The Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act – A bill to license and regulate both internet casinos and internet poker.
  2. H.R. 2230: Internet Gambling Regulation and Tax Enforcement Act of 2011 – A bill to license and regulate only internet poker but outlaw all internet casinos.

Gambling analysts, advocates and poker writers are currently bewildered over the reluctance of the US to create a proper regulatory framework for online poker. If this is done, US online poker players can safely and legally play their favorite games from the comforts of their homes, generating the billions of dollars in revenue that the country badly needs to solve its deficit budget problems.

Bob

Hailing from Wisconsin but arriving in Las Vegas in 1995, I'm better known at various US online poker rooms under the pen name "OreoBob" and "SoyFlush". I'm an avid poker player and editor-at-large who has contributed as a freelance writer for diverse national and international iGaming publications since 2004.

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