Online Poker’s Legal Wars in the U.S.

April 25, 2014
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The U.S. war between lobbyists and lawyers over online poker has been raging for almost 10 years now. Lawmakers were convinced that any type of betting on the Internet should be prohibited so in 2006 the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIEGA) was passed. It effectively prevented online gaming companies operating in the United States from processing payments to their customers.

Many websites left the home of the brave and land of the free to settle in countries in South America and Europe, but a few remained and went toe to toe with the Department of Justice. April 15, 2011, will forever be remembered by the online gaming community as Black Friday. It was on this day that online poker companies PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Cereus were indicted for bank fraud and money laundering.

Online Poker's Legal Wars in the U.S.

All three sites were shut down by the government and all funds were seized. Millions of dollars were usurped and vanished. Thousands of poker players lost all their money. Exactly how much was lost may never be known, but a conservative estimate suggests that PokerStars and Full Tilt had accepted a total of $500 million in player deposits.

As with all legal battles, it’s coming down to the fine print. The UIEGA specifically targets businesses that “knowingly” accept” payments “in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful internet gambling.” However, the definition of unlawful gambling applies only to sports betting, not poker.

This interpretation has paved the way for Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware to push for legalizing online poker, and it looks like New York, the Empire State, could be next in line.

“The market is still maturing,” Nicholas Kisberg, CEO of, said. “While online gambling does see steady growth in regulated markets, it does take time for players to become comfortable with the operators. In addition, traffic levels at poker rooms – a factor that is essential to their success – take time to reach critical levels that create exponential growth.”

Online Poker's Legal Wars in the U.S.

New Jersey currently allows its residents to play casino table games such as roulette and blackjack online for real money. New Yorkers would at first be restricted to skill games like Texas Hold’em and Omaha. Still, operators who would like to enter the New York market would have to fork out $10 million for a gaming license and be taxed at 15 percent of gross gaming revenue.

Meanwhile, European online gaming companies have been gearing up for years for the U.S. market to open up. With millions already saved up, the chance of a Europeans turning up for a second coming to the new world is highly likely.

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