Online poker is one Americas favorite pastimes but with recent developments many Americans still wonder whether playing poker online is actually legal or not. I am not an attorney and have no legal background but I have done a lot of research on this topic and have made my own conclusions.
In 2006, the United States passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act or UIGEA. The bill was attached to the Safe Ports Act and was overwhelmingly passed into law. This was the work of two US Senators whom wanted to end online gambling in the United States.
The UIGEA has been a controversial law ever since it passing. In short the law makes it illegal for Banks and other financial institutions to knowing process payments for the purpose of gambling from United States residents. The Act excluded lotteries and fantasy sports as well as games of skill. Initially it was thought that online poker would not be effected by the bill as many viewed poker as a skill game. Unfortunately, as most poker players know, the Department of Justice considered poker gambling and enforced the law with the indictment of the owners of some of the largest online poker sites that still accepted Americans. Poker sites such as Full Tilt, Poker Stars, Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet were the first to fall. Subsequent online poker rooms would also later be indicted and others decided to leave the US market.
With all that said, does the UIGEA really make playing online poker illegal? The simple and short answer is no. The law applies only to the banking institutions and online poker rooms. Nowhere in the law does it state that any individual who plays online poker is breaking the law. Nor does it state that making deposits and withdraws from poker sites are illegal. The onus is on the banks and poker sites to abide by the law.
So how do some poker sites still accept USA players? Many poker sites take the stance that because they are licensed and regulated in countries outside the United States and they do not need to abide by the UIGEA. For this reason they continue to accept existing and new USA poker players. This is a very “grey” area of the law but hopefully in the near future we will see full regulation of online poker in the United States. Some states have already passed bills allowing online poker within their state borders. With such progress we hope to see poker regulated at a national level soon.