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Is playing online poker legal in the USA?

On Friday April 15th 2011, the DOJ and FBI shut down the main online poker sites in the USA: pokerstars, full tilt poker, UB poker and absolute poker. But is it legal to play online poker? The short answer, is yes it is, as these indictment are only related to the operators, not the players.

With all the technical terms, reading about the legality of online poker in US can be a bit of drag. Many players remain oblivious to the whole situation, taking one look at the word UIGEA and thinking 'what does that mean?'.

UIGEA But online poker in the US has changed radically since President Bush confirmed the Safe Port Act, which contains a key provision known as the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

2006 saw a new dawn in the online poker era, as (the world's biggest network at the time), and withdrew their US custom.

At the middle of 2011, this article will review the current situation, and explain why it is in your interests to keep yourself updated on the matter.

Firstly, let's provide a recap of the whole situation. The 2006 UIGEA prohibits any poker/gambling website from making financial transactions with US banks and similar institutions. In order comply with public trading standards (such as the London Stock Exchange), many publically owned companies such as PartyGaming withdrew their US custom.

Since PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker are privately owned companies, they have continued to accept US custom. How is it legal for a US player to play on PokerStars? In 2004 the Caribbean Island of Antigua and Barbuda secured a World Trade organisation ruling that US legislation prohibiting online betting breaches global laws. Basically, since the 'house' is located off US shore, the UIGEA does not apply. As long as players bet against each other, are exempt from sharing the house rake, avoid sports betting and obey state jurisdiction, they are free to play poker online for money in the USA.

Since 2006, there have been several valiant attempts to combat the UIGEA. This has primarily come from PPA (Poker Players Alliance), which has over 1,000,000 members and is supported by the likes of Doyle Brunson and Howard Lederer. The organisation has raised over $3 million, some of which is used to help cover legal fees. The PPA is an online petition against the UIGEA with the following aims; 1) exempt poker from the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) and 2) license and regulate internet poker in the U.S. 3) Respect the rights of law-abiding Americans who love to play this great game of skill.

It is very difficult to gain any headway because of the discrepancies between state and federal law, and the laborious legal process which means a bill must be passed by the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, etc. The Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA) has appealed strenuously against the UIEGA, arguing there is no clear state laws banning online gaming, but was quashed at the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Meanwhile figures such as Senator Menendez have pushed for a new bill looking to regulate online poker by introducing a stringent age-verification process and clarifying its status as a skill game.

Last December, reports were emitted of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's new, 57 page bill to legalise and regulate online poker. The bill, still in draft form, was quickly backed by Harrah's and the PPA, despite warning that PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker could face two years in the wilderness before they could be granted a license. In the long run, this may satisfy high stakes players looking for smooth deposits and transactions involving big sums of money, but would infuriate grinders who rely on constant play to ensure profits. However the CEO of the PPA John Pappas was resigned to the fact the bill would not be passed before the Congressional session expired. False hope such as this epitomises the PPA's struggle over the past few years.

With the Republicans gaining control of the House of Representatives in 2011, this saw pro internet gambling congressman such as Barney Frank lose their positions. The actions of the DOJ on Black Friday took almost everyone by surprise. Remember that what they did was simply to apply the UIGEA, but this does not make playing online poker illegal. There are still a few rooms offering real money poker games in the USA.

Despite the UIGEA, poker had boomed considerably in the past five years, and the government must be aware that the gambling industry can provide several jobs in times of unemployment and economic recession. So a new bill to regualate online poker is currently discussed in Congress. Whatever the outcome, 2011 anf beyond look set to provide several twists and turns.

Of course the best way to play online poker is to get a rakeback deal first. Click any banner to read about our exclusive deals.


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