This article is not legal advice but it is a resourceful guide to help the community better understands online poker laws in relation to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Ever since the act was passed in 2006, the question of whether or not online poker playing is legal has been up in the air. However, the passing of this law has had severe ramifications for poker operators worldwide.
Party Poker and many other sites have banned U.S. Players because they want to distance themselves from any possible legal actions. Together, the vagueness of the UIGEA law as well as sites prohibiting U.S. Players from playing online have created the misconception that online poker playing is illegal. This is simply untrue.
Federal Law Banned Operators, Not Players
According to Sections 5363 and 5366 of the UIGEA, the law criminalized operators of most online gambling websites who accepted funds from bettors in order to facilitate the business of betting or wagering. It banned online operators from knowingly accepting checks, credit card payments, and/or electronic fund transfers to facilitate business practices that required the staking or risking of property for the outcome of a sporting event, a contest of others, or a game subject to chance. It did not, however, criminalize the actions of the better, only the operator.
But Online Poker is Not a Game of Chance
In 2012, a New York judge ruled in favor of a businessman charged with violating the 1970s Illegal Gambling Business Act because of the poker room that he operated in the back of his store. According to the judge, he decided that the man had not violated the law because poker is not a “game of chance,” but a “game of skill.”
This decision was a milestone victory for online poker gaming sites. Though no state, except the state of Washington, explicitly prohibits a player from participating in online poker, other states have state laws that support the federal law and criminalize the act of the player as well.
For example, Article 37 of North Carolina law states that any person who bets on any game of chance where they risk money, property, or anything of value shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor (this does not include the legal playing of the state lottery, which is considered charitable gambling). Once again, we see the words “game of chance.” Based upon the New York judge’s ruling, a person placing a bet on a poker game is not placing a bet on a game of chance; instead, the individual is betting on his particular set of skills in correlation with the outcome of the game.
Regulation Instead of Prohibition
There is no federal law exclusively prohibiting an individual from playing online poker. It is not the government’s plan to prohibit online gambling but to regulate it. Several states, including Nevada, California, Delaware, and Iowa are already debating on an online poker laws bill for regulation purposes. Regulation simply means that it is legal based upon certain circumstances.
Victor Landers, an avid poker player, is not an attorney but is completing courses toward an MBA in business law. He is proficient in online poker laws, legal research and constitutional law.