Is Online Poker Legal?

With the popularity of poker growing at such as steady pace, the question on many people's lips is: "Is online poker legal?" The answer to this is not a clear cut 'yes' or 'no' because one of the main factors on the legality of poker is based on country jurisdiction.

The internet crosses all borders and languages, making it accessible to practically anyone in the world. However, one of the main problems governing the internet is the fact that while certain pastimes and sites may be acceptable to one nation, it could be seen as unacceptable to another. This seems to be the case for online poker and other gambling games.

In countries such as with strict anti-gambling laws, the legislation of poker is unambiguous. Poker sites are out of bounds to citizens and anybody found playing the game on the internet will be prosecuted. However, in western countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and those on the European continent, the laws are different and can depend on several factors such as skill vs. luck elements.

In the United States, for example, there are several states that have laws that may be interpreted to mean that online poker playing is illegal. However, an important thing to note is that nobody has ever been prosecuted for playing poker on the internet and millions of players worldwide enjoy games and tournaments each day. On a national level, the dated Wire Act was used for many years to claim that any form of gambling over the telephone (and thereafter the internet) was illegal. It was on this act's basis that President Bush signed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act into law in 2006, essentially prohibiting US financial institutions and credit card companies from transferring funds to or from American players. The law, however, does not state that it is illegal to play poker online, leaving an important loophole about whether it's legal or illegal to play poker on the internet in the US. Many real money poker sites do not accept US players and check by tracking their IP addresses.

The United Kingdom has taken an entirely different path to the United States' Prohibition policy, however. In 2007, the long-planned Gambling Act came into effect that meant that all gambling activities, both online and off, are the responsibility of the Gambling Commission. This organization issues licenses, sets strict industry standards and counters underage and problem gambling. Online poker rooms that wish to offer their services to the British public need to pass through the Commission and once they are licensed, players are free to go ahead with their poker fun. Many feel that the reformed UK gambling laws, with its tighter regulation, should also be adopted by the United States.

Several poker rooms and online casinos that were forced to leave the US playing field, immediately sought other markets around the world, with most making their way onto the European or Asian scene. Countries in these regions were suddenly forced to sit up and take a clear line on their own legislation regarding online wagering. At present, it seems that the European Union has adopted a pro-online gambling stance, arguing that member states that pass anti-gambling legislation are going against the free-trade treaties of the EU. However some countries are making it increasingly difficult for its citizens to gamble online, in a bid to protect their own state monopolies on certain sectors of the industry. Germany, for example, passed a law at the beginning of the year, essentially banning online gambling unless through restricted state-run sites.

In summary, in most cases online poker is legal, as long as it is played according to the laws of specific countries and jurisdictions. The internet has brought with it the means to circumvent almost any type of restriction, meaning that millions of players from around the world continue to play the game without fear of prosecution.