Real money poker – the legal situation

Posted:November 2017

Everyone likes a gamble. OK, that might not be absolutely true, but certainly very many people like a gamble, regardless of nationality, age, sex, religion or any other demographic divide that you might wish to come up with. 
There are all sorts of different types of gamble available. Some people choose to bet on a sporting event, others like slot machines, and still others opt for a game of cards. For those who prefer their wager to be more dependent on skill than luck, few things can come close to a real money poker game. 

Legal and underground gambling

Understanding the Legal Restrictions on Playing PokerOf course, in days gone by, a real money poker game meant getting around a table with some like minded individuals, and this is where the question of legality came to the fore. In jurisdictions where gambling was permitted, there was no problem, and the poker tablewas and continues to be one of the most exciting places to be in any casino the world over. 
In those places where gambling is not allowed, however, the activity was driven underground. We have all seen the somewhat comical representations in movies, where police bust into an underground gambling den and the players profess that they are “only playing for matchsticks.” It raises a smile, but is really no laughing matter.

Real money poker and the online revolution

Then a few years ago, along came the internet. The thing about websites is that they have scant regard for or interest in international boundaries. Many of the most popular online casino sites are based in Europe, but as this full list of real money poker sites demonstrates, there are sites in all manner of locations, and most interesting of all, their doors are open to whomever wishes to register. 
For European users, it is a case of “business as usual.” Most European countries have a relaxed atmosphere to all kinds of gambling, and see it as an enjoyable pastime, a chance to earn some extra cash and a valuable industry that generates significant revenue. 
Elsewhere, however, the case is far less clear-cut. For US users in particular, there is no shortage of confusion and misinformation about the legality or otherwise of playing real money poker online. 

Online gambling in the US

Most Americans are under the impression that gambling is only legal in certain states, and they assume this applies to all gambling activities, whether they take place online or in the physical world. This is completely untrue.
There is actually only one state that has a legal restriction on real money poker, and this is Washington State. However, even this has never been enforced in the 20 years it has been on the statute books, and the weight of legal opinion is that it would be unenforceable due to legal desuetude.
Beyond that there is no legal restriction on playing online poker for real money in the United States of America. 

What about the UIGEA?

You might have heard of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which was enacted in 2006 (read the full act here). Surely this means internet gambling is illegal? Absolutely not. What the Act states is, in essence, that US banks are not permitted to process funds into online gambling sites. The Act has no bearing on the actions of American citizens and has nothing to say about them gambling online.
In other words, US citizens are completely at liberty to play real money poker online, and there is no law against doing so. The only issue with the UIGEA is that they are likely to encounter difficulties in transferring funds from their US bank account to an online casino. 

Is Bitcoin the answer?

Bitcoin is a virtual currency that presents a neat solution to the above problem. A growing number of online casinos accept Bitcoin payment, and this provides an effective “buffer” between the US bank and the online gambling site. 
This is not the only advantage of Bitcoin poker. There is the additional bonus that Bitcoin winnings are completely tax free, unlike those from brick and mortar casinos, or indeed conventional online ones that deal in direct bank transfers. They are also 100 percent anonymous. Ideal for those who want to keep their wins or losses from prying eyes!  
As with anything, particularly for anyone looking into Bitcoin as a possible solution, it is worthwhile reading up on the specific laws imposed within your local jurisdiction.


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