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Dealing with the Law: A Guide ...


Dealing with the Law: A Guide to Online Poker Legality in the US

The Silicon Review
10 July, 2024

The legality of online poker in the US has many players confused. Federal laws paint a murky picture, further complicated by individual state regulations. With straight answers few and far between, finding simple facts can feel like enduring bad beat after bad beat - disheartening and frustrating. It's easy to understand the uncertainty. If it’s not legal, then how come there are so many safe and reputable poker app options available, and why are they so easy and convenient to access?

Nowhere in the US is poker explicitly illegal; however, it is only truly legalized and regulated in a handful of states. But this is a gross oversimplification; the deeper details are important, and they can be harder to read than a practiced poker face. So, if you, like many, worry you’re calling a risky bluff with every virtual hand, this article aims to clear the fog and put your mind at ease.

Pokers Pioneering States

In the absence of clear federal regulations, the onus falls on individual states to legalize and regulate online poker. Several states have taken the initiative. As of June 2024, six states have thrown in their blinds: Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Michigan. Each state that took the leap did so under its own laws, creating varied legislation even between jurisdictions that are, otherwise, on the same page. Fortunately, all six have settled on remarkably similar regulations, all intended to ensure fair play and consumer protection. They each have the same minimum gambling age limit of 21, for instance.

Federal Laws

Unlike sports betting, which received a federal green light in 2018, online poker remains unregulated on a federal level. This means there's no blanket ban, but the legality depends on individual state laws. It was the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 that shuffled a wild card into the deck for the online poker scene. The UIGEA doesn't explicitly criminalize playing online poker, but it does restrict institutions like banks from knowingly processing payments related to "unlawful internet gambling."  Because the act itself doesn't explicitly define online poker as gambling, the game's legal standing remains ambiguous. The vague definition leaves room for individual states to apply their own interpretation as to how online poker fits in under the UIGEA.

Offshore Poker

So, with only six states sitting at the felt table, what is the situation for residents of the other forty-four? You guessed it, it's complicated. Offshore poker platforms might seem like the natural place to turn, and doing so is not outlawed. Think of it like the digital equivalent of the travel trend of casino tourism. Offshore sites are known to offer a wider selection of games, potentially hosting larger player bases and offering unique bonuses. Transaction fees and rake also tend to cost less on offshore platforms. However, explore with caution, as offshore platforms are not beholden to the same strict player protection and security measures as domestic options. Look for sites carrying reputable licenses like the Curacao Gaming Control Board.

Crypto Poker

Using offshore sites presents another problem. One that cryptocurrency is widely being used to solve. Remember the UIGEA? The act’s restrictions mean some banks block transactions from offshore poker sites. To circumvent this, crypto betting sites are becoming increasingly popular. Due to cryptocurrency not yet being recognized as a legal tender, it provides a reliable alternative to fiat money, allowing players to bypass UIGEA restrictions.

Should this trend continue, governments will eventually have to address laws that don't account for crypto as a payment medium, resulting in the updating of acts like the UIGEA. This, in turn, could influence future legislation relating to online poker, leading to further legalization. However, governments wary of Crypto's disruptive potential might see its use in gambling as a reason to stall poker legalization. It could go either way.

The Legal Future of Online Poker

The success of online poker in regulated states has sparked interest in other states considering legalization. Several states, including New York, Illinois, and California, are engaged in ongoing discussions about legalizing and regulating online poker. When predicting which states may be next to join the game, those with established casinos and a history of legal gambling are perhaps the most likely. It's no coincidence that Nevada, the godfather of gambling, was the first state to legalize in 2013. However, some brick-and-mortar casinos might resist online competition, potentially hindering legalization efforts.

The success of online sports betting in these states could pave the way for similar legislation for online poker. States that have seen the most economic success from legalized sports betting are likely to be the most keen. While the future remains uncertain, economic success stories from regulated states, coupled with the growing popularity of online gambling in general, suggest a potential wave of legalization in the coming years.

Key Takeaways

  • Online poker legality in the US varies by state.
  • Six states have legalized and regulated online poker.
  • MSIGA allows players from participating states to compete together.
  • Playing online poker on offshore sites is a viable option, so long as players are careful to choose licensed platforms.
  • Cryptocurrency use may be a catalyst for dramatic changes to online gambling legislation.
  • More states are considering legalizing online poker, suggesting a bright future for the industry.
  • Players should check their state laws and play on licensed sites for a safe and secure experience.