Is Online Poker Legal in the USA?

The decision of the gambling industry to go online has been the single most significant one to affect the industry in the years it has been around. That one decision revolutionized the face of gambling, including playing poker for money. Today, online poker is one of the most popular online games in the world. However, there is one issue that continues to be a sticky one when it comes to online poker - is online poker legal?

The problem is that unlike traditional gambling that had cut and dried legislation and policies regarding the legality or otherwise of playing poker or any other gambling game, there is a maze of confusion when it comes to online poker, though this is not the case in all countries. In some countries like those in Europe, there are clear laws that consider online poker a legal activity. However, the problem arises when we talk of the legality of online poker in countries like the USA.

Is Online Poker Legal in the USA?

Is online poker legal? This is a question that has plagued most players from the USA. Not only the players, this is a question that a number of online poker rooms have found difficult to answer. As a result, there are a large number of online poker rooms that straightaway bar players from the US from playing the games online, while there are others that accept US players.

So how can this kind of a radical dichotomy exist among online poker rooms, you may ask. The problem is a tricky one, basically, and that is what has brought about this kind of divide among poker rooms. Basically, there was earlier no law in the USA that explicitly called playing online poker an illegal activity.

There was, however, the Wire Act, which stated, '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.'

Online Poker in the USA - The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act

As long as the Wire Act was considered the legislation to follow regarding the legality of online poker, there were a number of online poker sites that were accepting players from the USA. All of that changed once the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was passed in the year 2006. As soon as it was passed, the stocks of many of the prominent online poker rooms started hitting the depths.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act basically recognized that existing legislation was inadequate when it came to regulating Internet gambling, and laid down new guidelines to ensure this was done adequately and appropriately. The Act itself does not directly address online gambling itself, but it recognizes the act of a bank or any such financial body transferring money to an online gambling website as an illegal act and a crime. Once the Act was passed, online poker rooms across the world started banning US players.

Without providing any definitive answer to the question ‘is online poker legal?', the Act has instead opened up new areas of debate - what if online poker players bet against each other alone? What if they raise the point that poker is not just a game of mere chance, but also skill? The grey areas continue to exist when it comes to the question of legality of online poker sites.

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