In all things legal, there’s no substitution for the advice of a qualified lawyer. However, a general idea of where the law stands on gambling and poker is a good place to start if you have concerns about playing poker for money online.
The first thing you should know about US gambling laws is this: recent events have brought a lot of attention to online wagering and the passing of the Safe Pot Act, which included an important statute about online betting, will make sports betting and most online wagers involving money transfers, illegal.
The second thing you should know about gambling and poker: there is a big difference between something like sports betting and gambling in a skills game like poker or bridge. There’s also a sizeable difference between betting in roulette or on a slot machine. As yet, these different forms of gambling have not been treated in the same way by the law; a ruling that applies to sports betting doesn’t necessarily apply – at least not yet – to online poker.
The situation is still very confusing though.
One of the leading gambling law authorities in the US had this to say before the passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006: “No United States federal statute or regulation explicitly prohibits Internet gambling, either domestically or abroad.” However, the Wire Act contains the following subsection: “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.”
It’s fairly easy to see why this statue, the Wire Act, was most often citied as the law that makes online gambling, specifically sports betting, illegal. Yet, even this important statute doesn’t explicitly state that online gambling, let alone online poker playing, is illegal. The wording of the statue suggests that it only applies to the individual involved in the “business of betting or wagering” not to the individual better or, in poker, to the individual player. See the case of Jay Cohen for more.
In 2006, the passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act changed the situation for online sports betters and, probably, for poker players as well. The act looks set to specifically target the transfer of money in the betting world.
Free games and forms of gambling that don’t involve the transfer of money will be unaffected by the bill, but just about every other form of gambling is, although it’s still considered unlikely that individual bet makers, let alone poker players involved wagers, will be targeted by state or federal governments.
Most of the attention in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and the Wire Act is given to money transfer. As per the 2006 Act: “No person engaged in the business of betting or wagering may knowingly accept any money transfers in any way from a person participating in unlawful Internet gambling…[which]…includes credit cards, electronic fund transfers, and even paper checks. But it is limited to Internet gambling businesses, not mere players.”
The expectation is that all online transfers or transactions of money will require participants to provide valid and verifiable ID so that the transaction can be tracked and assessed.
When it comes to funding or withdrawing from an online poker account, for example, with a credit card, check, or wire transfer, the 2006 Act will probably make things more complicated for the player. Ultimately, it will depend on how readily the new laws are enforced and how readily the individuals sites agree to comply.
Playing poker online has not been considered illegal either by law or by consensus, but it’s important for anyone with concerns to consult with a lawyer for more information about how this new bill, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, will affect the situation. Everyone should stay informed of developments that may change the status of either online gambling in general or online poker playing. The Act hasn’t been signed yet but it will be and the regulations it proposes will go into affect by the beginning of 2007. You should also check the laws for the state in which you live.