Legal Online Poker in the US: The BreakdownSo, is it legal to play online poker in the United States or not? Well, the answer is both yes and no. The road to legalizing online poker in the US has been a rocky one. With many ups and downs, decisions and appeals, the official legal condition of online poker in the US is still murky at best, with recent actions possibly putting a damper on the industry.
Timeline to Date
1961: The Federal Wire Act is passed, banning all interstate gambling. Clearly there was no internet poker at this time, so it is initially intended to quash illegal bookmakers and the Mob.
2006: Washington State makes playing online poker a Class C felony in the state. In October, the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) is passed, prohibiting banking institutions from accepting online payments for the purpose of gambling.
This is where things start to get confusing in terms of opinions on what these regulations actually pertain to. Party Poker and 888 Poker pull out of the US market, while PokerStars claims the UIGEA does not include online poker and refuses to leave.
2011: April 15th. Black Friday. After half a decade of a lovely poker boom in the US, the Department of Justice indicts and seizes the domain names of PokerStars and Full Tilt. PokerStars pays off their players and moves internationally. Full Tilt goes bankrupt.
In December, the Department of Justice issues an interpretation of the Wire Act, stating it is intended for sporting events and contests and does NOT include online poker. The poker world rejoices! This would allow states to push towards legalizing online casino, poker, and lottery gaming.
2012: Nevada and Delaware waste no time getting into the game. Nevada shows off its shiny new “interactive gaming” license while Delaware passes the Delaware Gaming Competitiveness Act. These new movements allow the game to proceed only from within the borders of the state.
2013: New Jersey jumps in the melee, passing a bill to regulate. iGaming is legalized, allowing Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey to share their player pools. Thus, state-to-state sites between these certain states are now allowed.
2017: Pennsylvania passes legislation opening the door for online poker.
Ok, so things are progressing up to this point. More and more states are looking into the possibility of online gambling/poker. But then…
2019: In January, the DOJ publicly reverses their 2011 opinion of the Wire Act, citing it was a misinterpretation of the statute. Any interstate gambling is illegal after all, though this will not go into effect until 2020.
West Virginia becomes the fifth state to approve online gambling within state lines by passing the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act. With the new DOJ stance on the Wire Act, online sites in West Virginia will cater to only West Virginians.
Wire Act Opinion Overturned
Then in late March, the previous DOJ interpretation of the Wire Act is overturned after the New Hampshire Lottery Commission responds with a lawsuit. The Lottery Commission says the new opinion makes their operations illegal.
US District Judge Paul Barbadoro ruled with New Hampsire, stating the Wire Act only applies to sports betting.
Hooray! Online poker can go forward! Or so a few of us wide eyed optimists thought.
Not So Fast…
Last week the DOJ filed an appeal to Judge Barbadoro’s ruling. So as of the beginning of September, 2019, the legal battle continues in the United States.
Jeff Ifrah, founder of mobile gaming trade group iDEA Growth, said the appeal was unwarranted, but not unexpected.
The Department of Justice must now formally appeal to the First Circuit, who will decide the next course of action on the matter. The court is not in session until October when oral arguments will most likely be heard.
But don’t lose heart! Each state has the power to allow or ban online poker, based on the guidelines of the Department of Justice. As of this moment, it is legal to play on a US-owned site in 5 states: Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. That doesn’t mean that you cannot play on an international site, from anywhere except Washington State. Many states do not have penalties for playing on off-shore or international sites because there have been no laws made about the subject.
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