Playing on US Poker Sites

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Published: 27/10/2010

According to a recent study, there are at least 519 dedicated poker web sites on the Internet, of which 243—nearly half—accept play from the United States. They include some of the biggest and best known online poker rooms, such as Bodog Poker, Full Tilt Poker, and PokerStars.net.

But not every major poker site currently embraces players based in America. Party Poker, for example, does not. Nor do most of the Playtech affiliates, including BetFred Poker, VC Poker, and William Hill Poker, among others. As a result, many people are still quite confused about where U.S. players can join in and what sites are considered legitimate.

Legal Background

This rift in the online gaming industry began in 2006 when the U.S. federal government passed into law the “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act” (UIGEA). The statute banned American financial institutions from processing transactions with online gambling operators. Special exceptions were made for state-run lotteries, horseracing, and fantasy sports, but the law forced many publicly traded online casinos, sportsbooks, and poker sites to stop taking wagers from American players.

Hit hardest by this legislation were Party Poker (Party Gaming), Pacific Poker (888), Paradise Poker (Sporting Bet), and Pokerroom.com (BWIN). Much of their clientele was based in the United States. Also, NETeller, the online gaming industry’s foremost wire-transfer service, almost went out of business when its founders, John Lefebvre and Stephen Lawrence, were arrested in New York and charged with money laundering.

As a result, many software providers declared that their poker room applications could not be used by anyone resident in the U.S. This was a huge blow to many of their clients, most of whom complied. However, more than a few refused to cooperate with the ultimatum, and others simply looked elsewhere for software.

Big operators like Bodog Poker, who had their own proprietary technology, decided the best way around the draconian law was simply to create non-banking alternatives. They could avoid dealing with UIGEA by avoiding American financial institutions altogether. Still, it is a paradox of sorts that almost all of the online poker rooms in the world, whether they allow U.S.-based players or not, still use the U.S. dollar as their primary currency.

Open Access Today

All of the 243 web sites that accept U.S.-based poker players today fall into one of two categories—real money or play money. The latter, which includes PokerStars.com for one, obviously have no legal concerns. They are just places to practice and play, with nothing of a true gambling nature involved. For a short time, even one nationwide TV network, NBC Sports based in Burbank, California, offered an online poker room purely as “entertainment.” It used Zen Gaming software as a tie-in to its televised professional poker tournaments.

By contrast, the real money poker rooms, such as Bodog Poker, use secure eWallet intermediaries to receive deposits and can remit by check. They also have credit card options that do not involve American financial systems. Players in America are treated no differently than those from elsewhere in the world.

A more complex aspect of playing poker on the Internet for Americans is state by state legislation. Regardless of federal law, some jurisdictions have decided to outlaw online poker rooms altogether. In Kentucky, for instance, all kinds of card rooms are illegal and the governor went on an online gambling witch-hunt, fighting to close poker sites.

Clearly, the dust has not completely settled. Even reputable sources of information like Answers.com say “playing poker on the Internet is not legal nor illegal in the United States.” But it should come as some solace to U.S. card hounds that under the federal “Wire Act of 1961,” no casual bettor has ever been convicted of poker playing online. What’s more, the UIGEA applies to companies, not individual players. That means wherever U.S. players are welcome, they may enjoy their games without worry of legal repercussions.

Published on: 27/10/2010

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