Posted April 7, 2014 by John Baintree in News

How Poker Became a Crime


In the United States, the home of poker, the legal world has successfully created a fog around whether or not it is legal to play the game online. In line with many western countries, the United States has been through a period of relaxing the legal restrictions on gambling for many years now and all seemed to be going well for the American world of gambling until the internet popped up.

With a typical legislators approach to something new the federal government in the United States has taken a clearly “oh not you don’t because we don’t think it’s going to be good for you all this new intent gambling stuff” kind of approach.

The 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act passed into law and immediately set about causing fog. Even the experts could not agree with what the new law would and would not allow. Whilst creating a new crime of accepting money in connection with unlawful internet gambling was on the face of it straight forward, the definition of what was unlawful gambling remained unclear and confused.

Federal authorities, in the form of the US Department of Justice, had long argued that under the terms of The Wire Act of 1961 it was illegal to take bets remotely. According to them, the act prescribed that using a wire communication facility to accept bets on any sporting event or contest was illegal. By 2011, five years after the 2006 Act, The position changed somewhat as the same department finally admitted that they were wrong (boring dry as dust legalese not to be repeated here).

Moving on the fog created by the 2006 act appeared to be clearing further when in 2011 U.S District Judge Jack Weinstein ruled that poker was not covered by the Illegal Gambling Business Act of 1970 because poker was not a game of chance, rather one of skill.

So with all this new found clarity, apparently in favour of the future of on line poker gaming, why did two college students behind online site Absolute Poker find themselves at the centre of an indictment from the feds?

The answer is twofold. First there were rumours that the platform created by Absolute Poker was not exactly squeaky clean and it was designed to permit less savoury activities at the poker table. There were also problems with other pieces of federal law.

Despite the clarity that had been provided by the US Dept. of Justice and Judge Weinstein other pieces of legislation now appear to be crawling out of the woodwork. The same Illegal Gambling Businesses Act also makes it a crime for online betting to take place in a State where it has been declared illegal at the State level.

Result – total confusion – is gambling online gambling illegal. You bet, but there again, most definitely not.

Moral – if you want to gamble on line don’t go to the United States and make sure you are not using an American website.