Like many poker fans, you may have been concerned about the passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act last year. Does the Act make it illegal to play online poker?
First of all, you should know that even before the Act was passed, online gambling was already deemed illegal by 11 states. I assume this means that the state laws deem online poker to be illegal--I am not familiar with all of the state laws, but that is what I would conclude. The 11 states in which online gambling was deemed illegal--and remains so today--are Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin. Let me repeat, online gambling remains illegal in these states. However, as far as I can tell, no one has ever been prosecuted by any state for gambling online.
In California, where I live, the law does not equate "poker" with "gambling" but deems it game playing, and professional poker players are not deemed as gamblers, but as professional game players.
After the Act was passed, nothing actually changed with regards to the legality of online gambling. As I have said, it remains illegal in those 11 states. But the Act did not make online gambling illegal in the United States of America as a whole. Following this line of thinking, then logically there are 39 US states in which online gambling is legal, as it was before the Act was passed.
So what did the Act do? In spite of its name, it does not declare online gambling to be legal. Instead, it made it illegal for financial institutions in the US to allow the use of electronic fund transfers and credit or debit cards in connection with online gambling. So players can no longer make bets or collect winnings through these methods. Of course, most US banks and credit card companies already denied the use of their cards on online gambling sites. But the new law has placed even more restrictions on player's means of transferring funds to and from online gambling sites.
Nevertheless, there remain a number of online poker sites that accept real-money players from the United States. If you are a US citizen and you find yourself barred from one poker site, then don't fret--you are sure to find one that will allow you to play.
There is controversy, after all, on whether the new bill is even enforceable. After all, online poker sites are situated outside the United States. So how can a United States law be made to apply to them?
Is it legal to play online poker in the United States? The answer is yes, it is legal--at least in 39 out of the 50 states. But the new bill has made it a lot more difficult for US players to make money at it.