Online Poker Legalities

Whether or not online poker is illegal in your area is not straight forward to answer. That said, one of the main factors which decides the legality of poker is based on your specific state laws with regards to internet based gambling.

Whilst online poker is accessible to a global audience, whether or not you are allowed to play at certain online poker sites is going to be determined by the laws governing the state/jurisdiction you are playing from. And this can differ from one state to the next in the same country, which is true for countries like the United States, whereby the different states have opposing views when it comes to internet gambling.

For example, while states like Nevada and New Jersey have developed infrastructure and legislation to allow for online poker games for their residents, other states like Maryland, Missouri, New York, Washington State, and Utah prohibit online poker playing.

So, it is up to each player to know what their rights are when it comes to playing online poker. In countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, other parts of Europe, and Australia, the laws in relation to online poker specifically differ and depends on how they interpret the game of poker based on whether it’s viewed as a game of chance or largely one of skill.

The problem with a lot of the legislation associated with online gambling is that the vast majority of it is vague in nature, and with most poker players coming from the understanding that poker is a skill-based game, they are of the belief that poker doesn’t fall in the same category as other games of chance, and therefore the laws don’t relate to online poker.

Internet gambling legislation aside, I think it’s important to realize that no actual players in the United States have even been prosecuted for playing online poker. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act that was signed into law by President Bush in 2006 didn’t prohibit US players from playing poker on the internet. The bill was enacted to prohibit US banks and financial institutions from processing transactions to and from online gambling sites. Due to the ambiguity of the lawmakers when passing this bill, it also wasn’t clear whether poker fell in the same category as gambling.

On the other hand, countries like the United Kingdom are much clearer about their stance of online poker. In 2007, the federal gambling laws were updated which had an impact on both offline and online gambling, with all gambling activities now the responsibility of the Gambling Commission, which was set up to issue licenses, enforce strict codes of conduct, and ensure that under age persons aren’t gambling. Online gambling establishments that wanted to offer online poker games to players from the United Kingdom were required to get a license.

How countries in the European Union are dealing with the issue of online poker is a bit of a mixed bag. In 2008, Italy was the first country in the EU to pass legislation that permitted online poker, which allowed for residents from Italy to play against each other. Several other countries that are part of the European Union followed Italy’s lead including France, Spain, Denmark, and Belgium. Some regulated EU countries playing against other players from the same country whilst others are part of international player pools. However, some European Union countries aren’t so pro-internet gambling.

In Australia, online casinos and online poker sites are not allowed to provide their services to local Australian players, but there are no specific laws that make it illegal for Australians to play online poker. As as result, you can see plenty of Australian players on the virtual felt of popular poker sites.

As most countries seem to have differing opinions on online poker with some of them wanting to go the way of regulation as a way to generate tax revenue, it does seem like there is a big shift in the way online poker is being played. What was once very much a global game, with the large online poker sites catering to players from around the globe, more and more operators have segregated player pools, which resembles a live poker game more than an online one.

This is unfortunate, since online poker, especially in the United States, was continuing to grow in leaps and bounds and showing no signs of letting up. Some US states that already have legalized online poker are sharing player pools to ensure there is enough traffic to guarantee action at most tables, but they will never have the same traffic levels as international sites. At least it is better than not being able to play online poker at all.