What laws are there relating to US online poker?

FAQ Players are recommended to follow both federal law and the laws pertaining to their individual states to ensure legal clarity.

Back in 2006, Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) which made it illegal for financial institutions to process payments for gambling companies. According to legal interpretations, online poker is legal in the United States outside of specific states that have legislature making poker or "all forms of wagering" expressly illegal. The laws in place, specifically the UIGEA, have targeted financial institutions and payment processors and never individual players. It is on record by the US Department of justice that the Federal Wire Act of 1961 does not apply to online poker. In fact, as recently as 2011, the Department of Justice reiterated their position that they considered the Federal Wire Act need only apply to sports betting.

What was "Black Friday"?

Black Friday refers to the day in April 2011 when the Department of Justice cracked down on alleged crimes against offshore online poker operators.

The federal criminal case was presented against the three largest online poker companies, PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Cereus (UltimateBet and Absolute Poker). These sites and payment processors were charged with violating the UIGEA and engaged in bank fraud and money laundering. The US Department of Justice seized the .com Internet addresses of all three online sites and replaced them with a takedown notice, with US players shut out from games and denied their funds. Although PokerStars.com customers in the United States were allowed to access their funds, players on FullTilt Poker are, as of September 2013, still waiting for their money back, and have had to apply to the DoJ to claim it back.

Do US players have to pay taxes on poker winnings?

Accountants are unanimous in their belief that any money won playing poker, either at a live casino on online, should be accounted for.Players are encouraged to make those funds subject to all applicable reporting and taxes. In order to stay compliant with tax authorities, players are advised to keep a journal for both their online and live play sessions throughout the year. Online, this is typically handled by tracking programs like Holdem Manager or PokerTracker.

Why won't many poker sites accept US players?

After UIGEA, many major poker sites, like PartyPoker, simply left the US market altogether, preferring to wait until full regulation/legislation arrived. Others stuck around, however, and it was these major sites who were eventually targeted and shut down by the DoJ.

PokerStars, Full Tilt and UB/Absolute have now stopped taking US custom entirely, although they may yet be allowed to re-enter the US market if and when any federal legislation arrives. Other, smaller, sites will not accept players because they lack the resources to both comply with current laws in the United States and process payments quickly and efficiently, without having their customers jump through hoops. It's fair to say that other international poker sites who have never entered the US are positioning themselves for America to open up.

Can I deposit and withdraw at a US poker site?

FAQ - Deposit Withdraw Poker sites that serve players in the USA do provide secure channels for depositing and withdrawing from their accounts. However, it falls on the player to ensure their own security and be smart about separating their 'poker accounts' from their personal ones. Using a dedicated credit card to make deposits and a separate bank account for withdrawals is recommended. Remember, it's never wise to mix personal accounts with professional ones.

Will I have delays depositing and withdrawing at online poker sites?

Players should decide what kind of delay in regards to their funds they are willing to accept, as the likelihood is they will experience a wait of some kind or another. Deposits are very quick and funds can show up in accounts in a matter of hours. Occasionally it might take a few days to clear. On the flip side, however, withdrawals do tend to take a much longer amount of time to process and appear in US players' bank accounts.

Typically, poker sites are good up front about managing expectations on how long the transaction will take and make their customer service representatives available for any questions. While it's not unheard of to see delays, reputable sites operating in the United States have a good system in operation and do a good job fulfilling within the window of time originally promised.

What is the UIGEA?

FAQ - UIGEA The UIGEA stands for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, and dates back to 2006. The legislation was actually tacked onto the Safe Port Act, an anti-terrorism law, but essentially UIGEA aimed to regulate payments to and from online gambling sites.

UIGEA "prohibits gambling businesses from knowingly accepting payments in connection with the participation of another person in a bet or wager that involves the use of the Internet and that is unlawful under any federal or state law." The act specifically excluded fantasy sports games that meet certain requirements.

The act was passed on the last day before Congress adjourned for the 2006 elections. The final regulations were finalized and released on November 12, 2008, and went into effect on January 19, 2009, the day before the Obama administration took office.

According to an overview posted on the FDIC website, the UIGEA prohibits gambling businesses from "restricted transactions", which is interpreted as any transaction involving gambling businesses when they knowingly accept payments from another person in a bet or wager on the internet.

There has been a long standing battle at the World Trade Organization (WTO) between Antigua and the United States. In January 2008 the WTO ruled that the USA was in violation of its treaty obligations by not granting full market access to online gambling companies, and confirmed in March of the same year that the United States lost in the case.

Since that time there have been many bills to come and go to challenge the UIGEA and bring well defined laws at a federal level to regulate and legalize online gaming. In 2018, despite many efforts, no federal law has been passed.

Are there states where online poker is regulated?

Under Nevada's new 2013 regulations, players using a Nevada-based poker site (Ultimate Poker is the first Nevada site to be launched) must be physically located within the state borders to log in and play online poker. These same players do not need to reside within the state nor have any financial assets -like a bank account - to participate. All they require is proof - typically a valid IP address - to determine if they are within the borders of Nevada. This state is the first to launch a fully legal online poker site.

In Delaware, laws have been passed allowing online poker to become a free and legal activity within state lines. The law was passed back in August 2012 but the state has yet to make significant movement. Delaware is putting together an oversight committee for monitoring Internet gambling activities and is setting itself up for a wide range of online games outside of online poker. The laws state that only residents of Delaware will be allowed to play and that IP addresses will be verified by the software to check where someone is logging in from. Delaware has authorized racetrack casino operators as the only licensed entities allowed to offer games.

In New Jersey, meanwhile, it has been announced that PokerStars will be offering online gaming. The state legalized online betting in February 2013 as a means to boost the state's $3 billion casino industry. All online operators are required to form a partnership with a casino located in Atlantic City. Other poker operators are lining up as well, with Ultimate Gaming reaching an agreement with Trump Taj Mahal Associates. The team at Ultimate Gaming is the same that launched the first regulated poker room in Nevada.

Are there states where online poker is specifically against the law?

FAQ - Legal Most of the United States is on the fence about online poker and undecided on whether playing is specifically against the law. In some states, it is expressly illegal to operate an online gaming site, while there is nothing on the books about actually playing. Other states do have laws against gambling but make no mention of online poker. Some states, meanwhile, feel they do not need to specifically single out online poker for special treatment because of their broad stance that any wagering activity is illegal.

Each state's laws are rapidly evolving, so be sure to check in for the latest information about your state. Here is a quick breakdown of some states where laws are less-than-ideal for poker players:

Montana is one the states that has specifically outlawed using an electronic device to gamble or play online poker.

Utah is another place that states that people are breaking the law if they participate in any game that has any element of chance to it.

Colorado is a state that has laws stating that prohibits players from transmitting or receiving gambling information by phone, telegraph, radio or other means.

Nebraska has very strict laws that prohibit any sort of wager being placed in the state.

In Oklahoma, even playing in a home poker game could get a person jail time. Although no mention of online poker is in the law, it's not necessarily a good idea to be logging in from home to play online poker there.

Louisiana has a law that states that anyone who gambles by computer could be fined not more than $500 or imprisoned up to six months. Take no risks here.

In Missouri, any gambling, either for skill or luck, is completely illegal and even being a professional gambler is illegal in the state.

Illinois has a law specifically stating that all gambling, both skill and luck gams, are totally illegal in the state, be it online or live.

Tennessee specifically outlaws gambling and mentions poker among all illegal gambling activities within the state.

In Mississippi, it is illegal to gamble in the state unless you are within a licensed gambling establishment. There's no specific mention of online poker, but unless you are playing from a licensed establishment, playing online poker should be avoided.

North Carolina has laws that make any wager, except for charitable events, illegal. There's no mention of online poker here, but it would potentially fall under existing law.

Texas, under the auspices of pro-poker Senator, Joe Barton, could see some kind of intra-state laws passed soon, but again, it's very much a case of wait-and-see.

Maryland has made any form of gambling illegal, be it online poker or anything else. This is one of the strictest states in the country for US gambling fans.

Connecticut doesn't specifically mention online gambling, although it is a misdemeanor to knowingly transmit gambling information.

Can I play online poker on my mobile?

FAQ - Mobile Poker There is no distinction between playing on a mobile device and playing on a home computer. Playing online poker on a mobile device, be it a smartphone or tablet, is certainly technologically possible. Some sites offer native applications (specific to Android users) while others can use screensharing apps like Splashtop or TeamViewer to "dial in" to their computer computer to log in and play. Generally speaking, though, playing 'no download' clients via a web browser on your smartphone is a possibility in the US.