Laws in the US regarding online gambling are very unclear. Some people would argue that technically online casinos are illegal but others would also point that no federal law exists which prohibits US citizens from participating in the activity. Professor I. Nelson Rose, the oft-quoted ‘expert’ on the legal issues surrounding internet gambling goes so far as to say that “no United States federal statute or regulation explicitly prohibits Internet gambling, either domestically or abroad.” Illustrating further the ambiguity of the situation, it is estimated that 70% of all online wagers originate in the US and Americans account for over 80% of online poker players and over 55% of all internet gamblers. Are all of these people ‘breaking the law’?
Despite the popularity of online casinos in America, there are different State laws on the subject which can affect citizens attempting to play in those regions and attempts have been made at the federal level to prohibit the activity altogether. As with so many legal issues in the US, it all depends on the laws of the State in which you live. Nevada, Louisiana, Michigan and Illinois have passed laws outlawing Internet gambling, and similar bills are pending in many other state legislatures. California, Massachusetts, South Dakota, and Utah also have enacted laws which outlaw some forms of online gambling while permitting others. However, most of these laws contain significant loopholes, allowing legal local operators to take bets online. Things are even more problematic since citizens are generally participating in online casinos which are legal in their base countries or where they originate. How can state governments, or even the federal government, prosecute such activity or the operators themselves?
The Federal Wire Act of 1961 (18 U.S.C. § 1084) is the most often cited federal statute which could possibly be said to deal with online gambling. This act, however, which prohibits betting from one state to another over phone lines connected to the Internet, only specifically mentions and prohibits ‘sports betting’. On top of that, the legislation is targeted more at the organizers of gambling activities and was designed initially with the intent of combating organized crime. While efforts have been made to extend the act’s provisions, the only actual effect(s) thus far which concerns online casino participation has been an increased difficulty, or inability, for US citizens to make gambling transactions outside of their state using their American credit cards. However, even here, with the emergence of online payment processing companies, one sees the difficulty in enforcing any such prohibition of online gambling.
As we’ve said, most US laws aimed at gambling were designed with organized crime and the operators of gambling schemes and activities in mind. In other words, a regular player, even playing in an illegal game, would find it very difficult, if not impossible, to get in trouble with the government unless he/she were to do something that directly helped the illegal business. Other evidence illustrating the difficulty of satisfactorily answering the question of online casino legality in the States comes from the recent WTO ruling (April 2005) which upheld the conclusions from a previous case in which it ruled that US legislation prohibiting online betting violated international laws. Some states as well, such as North Dakota, have even tried to pass legislation which would explicitly legalize online poker in the region and encourage operators to relocate to the state. While such legislation didn’t pass, neither has other federal legislation which has been aimed at prohibiting online gambling. Experts predict as well that even the most recent legislation being drafted at the moment (the 7th attempt at prohibiting online gambling!) has about as much of a chance as passing or being effective as “drawing 4 Aces in a game of 5-card stud.” So, for the moment, as has been the case in the US, there is no specific federal law prohibiting most online casino activities and even many state laws are very unclear, and/or open to interpretation. GamblingPlanet.org highly recommends that in any case, you check with the local laws in your state or region to be sure of that jurisdiction’s policies before you place a wager at any online casino.
Disclaimer: GameClash.org is not a legal authority. In no way should the information presented here be regarded as formal legal advice. All of the information given on these pages has been taken from several assorted news releases and articles and its accuracy is not guaranteed. For more accurate and formal information considering the legality of online poker, consult the specific laws of the area in which you reside or jurisdiction in which you are playing.