US Poker Law

Contrary to popular opinion (most often spread through ill-researched mainstream media articles), there is no Federal law in the USA that makes online poker illegal. There is however a law that makes it illegal for banks and financial institutions to facilitate the transfer of money for online gambling (the "UIGEA"). Some US States also have their own legislation in place which in some cases is black and white in not allowing online gambling and in others, more of a murky gray and open to interpretation.

What is clear however is that in 2012, US poker is back on the agenda and it is only a matter of time before we see regulation introduced, whether that be on a State-by-State basis (which seems most likely) ot at a Federal level. For a potted history of how we got where we are today, check out the Poker history section here at meanwhile, here is a run-down of current laws surrounding poker in the U.S.

The Current Situation, State By State

At present (Feb 2012), the following US States have laws where online gambling - including poker - is expressly referenced and deemed to be either a misdemeanour or a felony. Players who reside in these States should be very aware that if they choose to play online poker, they are breaking their State law:
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Louisiana
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
The Governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, also put an end to speculation on poker legislation in Utah in March 2012, signing the Sandstrom Bill into law which is "aimed at preventing any acceptance of legalised online gambling in the state".

As the law regarding online gambling is constantly under review in many US States, this list may not be complete by the time you read it so please make sure that you are aware of your local law if you intend to play poker online *. That said, with the difficulties faced trying to deposit and withdraw your money - a direct result of the UIGEA legislation passed in 2006 and implemented in 2010 - you may find it a frustrating experience right now anway. The GOOD NEWS is that the wind has changed.

The Winds Of Change

Since the DOJ announced in December 2012 that they no lonegr intended to use the 1961 federal Wire Act to chase down and indict online gambling companies, there has been a huge buzz around the USA with most observers suggesting it is now only a matter of time before some States see properly regulated (and taxed!) online poker.

Several US States are suffering through recession right now and Nevada, California, New Jersey and Florida have all recently been seen in related news touting ideas for entering the market. In several States there is already draft legislation being touted around and voted on. Nevada (who might surprise some by being in the list above) are also keen to ensure that the companies dominating Vegas can get their share of the action so legislation here looks very likely at some stage.

It is widely anticipated that Nevada and New Jersey wil be the first to regulate US poker online and industry observers are suggesting that Q3 2012 is the most likely time for these measures to come to fruition. Poker afficianodos will likely have to wait a little longer for the first US online poker rooms to open their doors however as the licences will need to be awarded which will also entail compliance checks. Realistically I think it will be 2013 before US poker starts to see some real action in the new regime and even then it will be a gradual process, State by State.

* You can get a very detailed examination of current laws on a State-by-State basis from I. Nelson Rose's website Gambling and the Law. I. Nelson Rose is a prominent lawyer who specialises in online gambling law and is widely used within the industry. Or put another way, he knows his onions.