So, is online poker legal? The short answer is that online poker is legal in most places around the world. In this post we’ll take a closer look at online poker laws in the United States, Europe and Australia, since it is one of the most commonly asked questions by new players.
Over ten years ago now Chris Moneymaker’s WSOP Main Event win in 2003, saw online poker’s popularity skyrocket to epic proportions, but it hasn’t been without its fair share of setbacks.
In September 2006, the UIGEA was enacted to prohibit banks and financial institutions from processing payments to and from gambling sites. It was not designed to stop the player, but it did work to some extent in making it more difficult to deposit into a poker room.
However, the biggest hit occurred on April 15, 2011, a day that is now dubbed as Black Friday by the online poker community, when 3 of the biggest online poker sites at the time, Pokerstars, Full Tilt Poker, and the Cereus Network (Absolute Poker/Ultimatebet) got shut down by the US DoJ (Department of Justice) after their founders were indicted on charges that included money laundering and running illegal gambling operations.
For players in the United States, playing online poker was still an option, but there were a more limited number of options and choices for players to choose from. Following the Black Friday poker indictments, the DoJ publicly changed its stance on the legality of internet gambling as it relates to the Wire Act.
The 1961 Wire Act was designed to prevent “wired” bets from taking place over the phone, but with the inception of the Internet, it has also been applied to online gambling. Now, interstate bets that aren’t related to a “sporting event or contest” fall outside the scope of this law.
When it comes to the game of poker in particular, there has been a lot of discussion specifically about whether poker is a luck or skill-based game. In 2012, a New York judge ruled that poker is more a game of skill than chance, and therefore, could not be prosecuted under the Illegal Gambling Business Act.
In the past several years, the state of online poker in the United States has changed drastically. Whilst there are still US-friendly online poker sites like Carbon Poker that continue to operate in the unregulated market, regulation has paved the way for for 3 US states: Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware to offer a wide range of internet gambling, including online poker games. This has allowed the states to tax online poker and setup a sensible framework for regulated online poker.
In Europe, online gambling is a very mature and well-regulated industry. While a few countries in Europe have taken an anti-online gambling stance, for the most part, Europe is completely for the regulation of online gaming, and of course this includes online poker. All online poker sites wishing to offer their product offerings to UK-based players are required to obtain a license from the Gambling Commission.
Beside the United Kingdom, a licensed and regulatory online poker framework has also been established in other European countries, including Italy, Spain and France, however, at the present time, the license only allows them to operate within but not beyond the country borders. So, Italians can play against other players from Italy, and so on.
In Australia, they have a fairly unique stance on online poker. Whilst you can’t operate an online poker room within the country, it’s not illegal for Australians to play on offshore gaming sites, and so many Aussies do play poker online (typically on the big sites like PokerStars). Even though Stars left the US market, they still accept players from most other regions on the planet.
Since the UIGEA and Black Friday, the absence of US online poker players on the big rooms has made things a bit tougher. Still, moving forward, I think it’s possible that the national regulatory bodies could work together to combine player pools for a larger player base, as this is what is holding back any kind of pre-Black Friday recovery. Players don’t want to just play against opponents who reside within the same borders, but against all their countrymen, and even players from other countries. If that became a reality, we may just see another “Moneymaker boom”.