USA Online Poker Laws

The legality of online poker within the United States is a common concern among poker players and online gambling enthusiasts. Currently, online poker play is legal within the United States. However, legislation known as the UIGEA, or Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act, was passed in 2006. This act made it illegal for illegal online gambling institutions, possibly including poker sites, to accept funds intended for Internet wagering. Although this bill technically doesn’t make online poker illegal, it has certainly added plenty of confusion to the understanding of USA online poker laws.

Analysis of the UIGEA.

Contrary to the beliefs of many, the UIGEA is not actually an independent bill passed into law by congress. Rather, it was an addendum that was tacked onto a bill of a completely different nature unrelated to online gambling, the SAFE Port Act. The SAFE Port Act, or Security and Accountability for Every Port Act, was a homeland security-related bill passed into law in 2006. The intention of the bill is to provide regulation for maritime facilities, assess foreign ports, and prevent terrorism. However, in the final minutes before the SAFE Port Act’s passing, additional language was added to the bill that constituted the UIGEA. George W. Bush signed the bill into law on October 13 of 2006, though he didn’t make mention of the UIGEA component of the bill at the time.

Following the passing of the bill, many online poker rooms were confused by its wording. As a measure intended to prevent legal issues, many popular poker sites decided to immediately pull out of the US market. Chief among them was Party Poker, a site that was at that time the largest online poker site in the world. However, many other poker sites such as Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, and Ultimate Bet, decided to continue offering their services to US-based players. To this day, these sites have not been penalized for their decision. However, many other sites continue to deny access to US players for fear of repercussions resulting from the UIGEA. Many of these sites offer free poker play to US players, to the exclusion of real money play.

If you would like to stay current with US legal news, we suggest you read the legal pages at USPokerSites. This site offers complete reviews of each state including up to date information regarding Nevada poker regulation which you can read here

Poker as a Skill Game

Many poker rights advocates contend that poker is purely a game of skill, and that it therefore does not constitute gambling. Under this line of thinking, it could be presumed that poker does not fall under the category of online gambling as defined by the UIGEA. Poker advocates point to the fact that many of the same players make deep runs in the World Series of Poker each year as proof that the game is based almost entirely on skill. For comparison’s sake, it’s important to understand that the same players do not have constant success in games of chance such as roulette or craps year after year. However, despite the convincing argument, an official ruling has not been issued to modify or overturn the specific language of the UIGEA.

Barney Frank Challenges the UIGEA

In 2007, Congressman Barney Frank created a bill that was designed to overturn the online gambling components of the SAFE Port Act. Frank’s aim was not to completely legalize and deregulate online gambling, but rather to create additional regulation that would make specific forms of online gambling, such as poker, completely legal. In addition, Frank’s bill (known as the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act) intends to prevent online gambling in problem gamblers and underage individuals. Additionally, the bill seeks to protect American online poker players from fraud, a somewhat common problem among less reputable online poker providers.

At the same time that Frank introduced this bill, he also introduced a second bill seeking to extend the effective starting date of the UIGEA until December 1 of 2010. This bill went into effect with little difficulty, though the starting date was only actually delayed til June 1 of 2010. It is currently unknown how the official beginning of the UIGEA’s enforcement will affect the state of USA online poker laws.

There’s no question that some individuals have addictive behavior when it comes to online gambling, including online poker. However, it is also quite clear that online poker is indeed a game of skill, despite the random element of dealt cards. As poker advocacy groups continue to push for clearer USA online poker laws and legislative language that legalizes online poker once and for all, it’s likely that more and more lawmakers will begin to gain a better understanding of the game of poker. This will certainly work in the poker player’s favor when it comes to the future of USA online poker laws.