Is It Legal To Play Poker Online?

Internet gambling has been around since the mid-90s, when the first online sports books and casino gambling sites opened their doors for real cash wagers. Even though the industry is nearly twenty years old, a good portion of the US population thinks that online poker and other games are illegal. It simply isn't true; outside of nine US states that have laws banning ALL forms of Internet bets, online poker is almost certainly legal. The reasons behind this legal grey area are complex, so let's start at the beginning.


In the late 90s and early 2000s, some state legislative groups, especially more reactionary state bodies such as those in the Midwest, began passing laws designed to make all forms of Internet gambling illegal including poker. Some of them did it because they believed Internet bets were immoral. Others were concerned that people younger than legal gambling age would be targeted, especially with Internet casinos games made to look more and more like video games.

The result of this strange morality waves is a jumble of different online poker laws from state to state, similar to the variety of private home poker game rules. In the vast majority of America, online poker is as legal as buying a CD from Amazon or a sweater from Land's End.

To find out if your state bans online poker as part of a larger ban on Internet games of chance or skill, contact a lawyer or legal professional familiar with gaming law where you live.


No federal anti-online poker laws exist. Federal laws making sports bets "over wire" illegal and preventing USA banks from doing direct business with online poker rooms exist, but neither of these target poker players whatsoever. In fact, after being queried by a handful of state governments interested in providing online lotto ticket sales, video poker, slot machines, and other games of chance and casino titles, the Department of Justice made two things clear.

They wanted to take down the illegal gambling hosts, not arrest US citizens laying down some NFL or NBA or March Madness bets. The second thing they pointed out was that the language of the Wire Act is clearly aimed at sports betting, not lotto, casino, bingo, or any other kind of game. Problem solved.


Right now, as you're reading this, a number of states as diverse as Iowa and New Jersey are debatimg bills on their legislative floors that would make online poker and allow for other legal online gambling opportunities. There are opposition groups working to make illegal gambling illegal, or, at least, not as easy to access. But since state governments in the US are dwindling, you should expect regulations against Internet poker play to slacken.

Should states decide to make full use of their ability to rax and regulate online poker, US poker fans would have an entirely new set of poker rooms to choose from. Some online poker players are afraid of what full legalization and regulation could do to online poker - maybe you'd only be allowed to play at state-regulated sites, as is the law in Nevada, and suddenly your choice for poker games on the Internet would be, well, just the one, run by the state.

Still, the online poker industry is abuzz with the rebirth of the American market. The UIGEA was a weak attempt to cut off Americans from their method of depositing funds to illegal and legal Internet casinos. Legal loopholes allow US gamblers to deposit to the sites still accepting their bets. A small number of sites, admittedly, but one that's growing every day, especially as anticipation of a wide open market grows.