Is It Legal To Play Online Poker In The USA? - Is Poker Legal?

The question of whether or not it is legal to play online poker in the USA is one that has confused and confounded gamers for years now. Many people will have heard contradicting reports; some stating that it is legal in certain states, others that it is now legal, and some that it is not legal at all. Just which one is true, or are any of them true at all? It is about time this mess was straightened out once and for all, but the problem is; where do you begin to look to find the truth about online poker’s legality in the United States of America?

Let’s just clear one thing up off the bat; nobody has ever been legally prosecuted for playing online poker in the United States. Hosting a poker site and running a poker site is one thing, but as of yet, nobody has ever been prosecuted for simply playing online poker. Whether or not online poker is legal in the United States seems to come down to one important factor. What does your state’s law say?

There are a few states in the country which have laws that could be interpreted as stating that poker is a game of skill rather than luck, and on that basis, that you are well within your right to play poker. However other laws about gambling online in general can be interpreted to contradict that. It is in essence a lawyer’s playground, and a player’s nightmare.

Update: Many states have been passing legislation that would let them legalize and regulate online gambing + poker in their states. New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada currently lead the charge with the latter already having granted a license to an online poker site to welcome residents of Nevada. Things are rolling in the right direction and it will just be a matter of time before this starts spreading across the United States and it's territories.

For years now the Federal Wire Act dictated that gambling was illegal. This law was an old one and did not fit properly into the modern twenty first century, but it quite clearly stated that anybody who engaged in transfer for gambling could be fined or faces no more than two years in prison. But this never happened. On that basis, the US Department of Justice decided to amend the law in September 2011, stating that the Federal Wire Act will now only pertain to sports gambling, and not online gambling in general. So under that basis, online poker should be deemed legal in the United States should it not? Ah, but there is another problem; the state’s themselves. Now that online casino games are not considered to breach federal law itself, it now becomes up to the states to dictate their own laws on online gambling; something which they have been in the process of doing ever since the amendment by the Department of Justice a year and half ago.

And here lies the problem. Although many states have laid the groundwork for legislation permitting online gambling to become legal in their individual states, and many have had their bills ratified by the House of Representatives, some states have still not officially declared online poker legal. Other states (some with strong religious beliefs) have clamped down and stomped out any potential legislation making online poker legal entirely.

President Bush Jnr., signed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006 which made it illegal for US financial institutions and banks to permit gambling fund transactions for American players; but that did not necessarily make playing poker online illegal. Free poker for instance, does not break any known or existing laws on gambling because it is in essence, not gambling.

But now with the amendment by the Department of Justice, many people want the right to play for money, and are not content with simple artificial currency poker. It certainly does not look like there will be any federal law forthcoming that will make online poker legal, however many poker groups are now trying to force their governor’s hand on a state to state basis to get their game legal, considering it no longer breaks any laws. As mentioned, several states are slowly inching towards that eventuality.

What online poker advocates hope to see is a ripple effect through the states which have a history with campaigning for gaming. As states continue to formulate sites in areas that online poker is legal (Nevada and New Jersey), others will likely take a hard look at the practical impact on the local economy. Whether for political reasons or not, one thing that lawmakers take into strong consideration is what generates money. The new online casino sites coming to New Jersey in November of 2013 will feature poker as a main attraction and it's expected to be the highest grossing game played.

At the minute offshore gambling for American players is prohibited (no doubt for potential tax reasons – i.e. a lack of taxable income for the government), however there are certain online poker sites in the United States were online poker is one hundred percent legal. In Las Vegas, a system has been tried and tested that means players inside a perimeter of a chosen casino can gamble on the casino’s website whilst staying at the resort. It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t solve the problem as many players would have to travel across state-lines or across the country to play. Delaware and Nevada both appear to be the closest to approving a general online poker site that can be run for real money, with Nevada actually handing out a license to Bally Technologies to produce such a site. But that certainly isn’t the end of the struggle.

You will probably have noticed that we are no nearer an answer to the question after all of this. This is the problem that American gamers have in general; nothing is clearly explained to them. Until a time occurs when a state comes out in full force and declares that online poker will be legal in their state (and it will only be in that state, for intra-state gambling will probably be forbidden), or unless by some miracle, online poker becomes legal under federal law (which it won’t), there is really only one way of answering the all important question.

Online poker is perfectly legal anywhere in the United States, and you are not breaking any laws at all by playing online poker in the country; provided that is – that you are not gambling any real money. Unless you are in a real, land-based, brick and mortar casino; then it seems – everything is fair game.

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