The most common questions professional poker players hear from those first learning of their profession go something like: “oh wow! Have I seen you on TV?” and “isn’t online poker illegal?” The first of those questions is generally met with a chuckle and a response to the tune of “umm, no” followed by a now confident “I mean… Not Yet!” The second question can be answered many different ways and is the one we’ll address on this page.
One place, www.Betonline.com, has continued to accept deposits for over 13 years because they are licensed to ‘legally’ accept players in the U.S. Their stance is that it’s the world wide web, and it’s legal in their jurisdiction. In fact, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has stated many times it’s not illegal for poker players in the US to play at offshore sites, therefore no laws are being broken.
There has begun a movement of brick and mortar casinos opening up through the H2664 and UIGEA Poker Clarification Act. This is allowing a few state run poker sites to operate within state borders online. Only Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware (with Pennsylvania and California as a potential very soon) have done it so far (you must be physically located in each state) with the opening of
Ultimate Poker (which went out of business on November 17, 2014 until new states open up), Borgata, WSOP, PokerStars (New Jersey only), etc.
As with marijuana, poker is legal in some states to operate real money poker websites. On a federal level there is constant discussion due to the skill debate. ThePPA.org is a great organization constantly pushing for legal poker nationwide. It’s an interest topic – segregated poker – on the internet. There has been a large push by many politicians, special interest groups, industry experts, and many states to legalize and regulate online poker within each respected state. Currently, our best guess for the next five states to fall in line will be Pennsylvania, Michigan, California, Massachusetts and New York.
Is it Legal to Deposit for Online Poker in USA?
The answer to this a definite “yes, it is perfectly legal to deposit for online poker in USA”. If you’re not familiar with H6663, this bill proposed the legalization and regulation of online poker in the United States. In July 2011, H6663 passed the US House Representatives Financial Services Committee by a 41-22 vote. Many poker players, operators and affiliates are optimistic that several more USA licensed poker sites will be available sometime in 2017-2019.
To the best of our knowledge, there are no federal laws that make it illegal to deposit or play online poker from the US. Of course, we’re not attorneys, nor do we come from a legal background. Also, while there might not be federal laws against online poker, there are laws against it in some states as well as certain counties and Indian reservations. In matters of the law, while Google search is convenient, we strongly suggest consulting with a licensed attorney rather than going by what you read on the net. With that said, we’ll now address some misconceptions regarding the legality of poker in the United States and lead into some of the more asked questions about state laws.
Specific State-by-State Laws
Alabama – Arizona – Arkansas – California – Colorado – Connecticut – Georgia – Idaho – Iowa – Kansas – Maine – Maryland – Massachusetts – Michigan – Minnesota – Mississippi – Montana – Nebraska – New Hampshire – New Mexico – North Carolina – North Dakota – Ohio – Oklahoma – Pennsylvania – Rhode Island – South Carolina – Tennessee – Vermont – West Virginia – Wyoming
Didn’t the US Ban Online Poker in 2006?
This is most certainly not the case. What you’re thinking of is the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006 (UIGEA for short). What UIGEA did was make it illegal for banks and financial institutions to aid in the processing of “illegal” online gambling transactions. Experts on this law have made it clear the bill itself did not create any new laws. It simply made it illegal for banks to assist in situations where old laws had already made gambling illegal. In any case it has been ‘clarified’ on the legal level that the law does not apply to online poker and when your state allows poker, you can play at the state’s site or overseas.
What About the Wire Act?
Editor Note: This topic has been changed. The courts ruled that the Wire Act now applies only to sports betting. The text below is still important because Sheldon Adelson is trying to have the decision reversed.
The Wire Act is an interesting topic, and what it does and doesn’t do is still being debated in court. Before looking at the bill’s text we should state this law has been on the books since 1961, which was well before the use of home computers, the internet and the beginning of online gambling in the 90’s. With that said, this is how the Wire Act starts:
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.
The remainder of the Act goes on to outline penalties and previsions, none of which span outside the words we’ve underlined “in the business of”. To us, this suggests the law simply makes it illegal to “operate” a betting service over the phone, which was the common way bets were placed in 1961, and has nothing to do with targeting “the bettor” (or in the case of poker the “player”). We’d normally include a “this is not legal advice” disclaimer to this section of the page, however even legal professionals can’t decide what the wire act means in relation to online gambling; it is largely up for debate.
One thing is for certain, the US Department of Justice believes the wire act makes all forms of online gambling illegal. However, US Courts have rules against this. Most, but not all, experts agree this applies only to those “in the business of” gambling. What’s up for debate is, does “internet-based” gambling apply, and if so what specifically is illegal; sports betting or all forms of online gambling? The legal precedent that has been set so far is that the wire act only applies to sports betting. This came from a US District Court Ruling in 2001, and was upheld in 2002 by the US Fifth Circuit Federal Appeals Court. We’re not even sure if any rulings have been made (or not) that interprets that the wire act even covers “internet-based” betting. Again, we’re not legal experts, but calling online poker illegal under the wire act is quite a stretch as again the legal precedent backed up by the federal court of appeals in plain language states, “The wire act only applies being in the business of accepting wagers on sporting events”.
New 2017+ State Laws
Certain states in the USA are coming to their senses and issuing state wide licenses to poker websites in there state such as Delaware and Nevada (who share tables), and New Jersey. This also means that if you live in a state that wants online poker, they will have it, just like Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York, Massachusetts and California which probably will be the next five states to legalize it.
Any state that passes such a law, players must be physically located in that state to play and can only play against others physically located in the state unless compacts are signed. Delaware and Nevada signed such compacts which means they can share their player pools to increase the number of players playing poker, also called interstate poker. New Jersey has not signed such a compact so they are classified as having intrastate poker. Stay tuned for more information in 2017 and beyond…
So, is it Legal to Deposit for Online Poker in the USA?
Well, we’ve come full circle on that topic. Once again, talk to your attorney and let them decide for you. If they tell you it is okay, you can then read about our various online poker deposit methods for USA. If you do decide to play, we wish you the best of luck at the US online poker tables.
Author: Savanah Lavinder
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