Legalities of Real Money Poker in US

Is playing real money poker online, as a United States citizen legal?  To tell you the truth, I wish I knew myself!  Unfortunately there is no clear cut answer.

In 2006, then president George Bush passed the UIGEA [Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act]. This bill was meant to end online gaming forever, with no if’s, and’s or but’s, however it has obviously not worked out that way.  A mixture of loopholes in the bill, lack of enforcement of the actual bill, and lack of clarity has caused online gambling to flourish over the past four years.  All of the major online gaming websites are now hosted and operated offshore in countries you have likely never heard of; this allows the sites to legally accept players from the United States while being outside of the US’s legal jurisdiction.  The bill did encourage banks to abstain from facilitating payments, which has been a success for the most part.  If you want to deposit or withdraw money from an online gaming site, you cannot do so through Bank of America or Wachovia, other, lesser known options like Neteller and Moneybookers are your only ways to go.  Up until now, banks have been “suggested” to stay away from online gaming, there have not been any real consequences.

The UIGEA was never a bill meant to hunt down individual players in the United States, they would have millions and millions of “criminals” to deal with, this bill was intended to go after the “big guys” the gambling websites themselves and the banks that facilitate payments to and from the sites.  No individual players have ever been arrested or charged with any crimes related to online gaming.  The bill did not actually go into affect until June 1st, 2010.  The final implications of the bill are unknown, there has been a lot of political talk about ending online gaming in the United States, but little to no action to do so has taken place.

Ironically, a bill that was passed in 1961, long before the internet or online gaming was even dreamed of, has arguably had a greater influence on online gambling then the UIGEA bill.  The wire act was passed in 1961 and was intended to suppress organized gambling.  It made making wagers over the phone illegal, however the status of internet wagers remains a mystery under this bill because the internet was not popular until forty years later.

There is no real way to know if you are safe gambling online as a United States citizen.  I am not a lawyer.  A bill was passed four years ago meant to stop online gaming, but it has not even made a dent in the industry.  A bill was passed nearly 50 years ago meant to slow down organized gaming, but there is no way to tie this bill to online gaming.  There are simply too many questions and not enough answers.  No one knows for sure whether online gaming is illegal.

As the UIGEA begins to go into affect, there have been several pushes to make online gaming legal.  The United States has plenty to gain from legalizing online gaming, imagine the tax revenues that the US could potentially collect. 30% on all winnings for example would mean billions of dollars in tax revenue and it would benefit all parties involved.  The online gaming industry is one of the few that wants to be taxed, they want to be seen as a legitimate form of entertainment, they would have no problem donating billions of dollars each year to the US government.

Last May congressman Barney Frank revealed the Internet Gambling Regulation Consumer Protection & Enforcement Act.  If passed, this bill would regulate and tax all online gambling by United States citizens.  Frank thinks that online gaming is much more “dangerous” as it is today, unregulated and unfettered by weak attempts to stifle it.  Many hoped that the 2008 presidential election would result in the legalization of online gaming, however president Obama has not been active in promoting a new online gaming bill, in fact he has not touched the subject at all.

The reason that there has been no definitive answer as to the legalities of playing real money poker online in the US is because no politician wants to touch the topic, it would be lethal to his/her chances at being reelected.  Bold politicians like Barney Frank are rare.  Most politicians see promoting a bill that would legalize online gaming as political suicide.  The core of America’s voter base, conservative Christian’s, would abandon the politician and vote for whoever is running against him/her.  There are very few members of congress that want to outlaw online gaming however.  They likely see that online gaming is more dangerous when it is illegal and not regulated.

Is online gaming legal?  Many say yes, even more say no.  It is simply not fair or responsible for me to give you an absolute answer.  Let me reiterate that no players have ever been charged or convicted of any crimes related to online gaming, it simply has not happened and likely never will.  Hopefully we will have a clear cut answer to this question soon, for better or for worse.  Eventually something is going to have to happen, the United States government is leaving too much money on the table by not regulating online gaming.  One thing is for sure, online gaming websites will always find a way to tap into the lucrative US market.

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