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Internet Poker and the Law

The issue of online poker’s legal status in the U.S. is, politely stated, rather complicated. More bluntly put, for the player looking to get in on some real-money poker over the Internet, the situation is a mess.

Here is the one true and unassailable thing that can be said regarding real-stakes online poker: It’s up to you, as the player, to determine the legal situation in your jurisdiction. Local laws and policies are numerous and often in flux. There are many reliable sources of information available online, and it’s definitely in your interest to check these out. For a few good starting points, please refer to Appendix A.

Generally speaking, here’s the situation: On the federal level, existing laws appear to apply only to the operators of online gambling sites, including poker rooms. This is why all legitimate Internet poker sites are located in countries other than the U.S. For the most part, the federal government is not interested in gambling; it has traditionally been a state and local issue.

That being the case, most state and local gambling statutes were written well before the dawning of the Internet, and so it’s often unclear how existing laws apply to online games. In some states and jurisdictions, “social games” are exempted from the more general gambling prohibitions, so long as the player does not help set up or run the game.

Further complicating matters is the fact that poker is often considered separately from other casino games such as roulette, dice, and slots. As we’ve discussed, poker is a game in which the player does not bet against the house. Instead, poker rooms online and off make money by simply facilitating the game, in which players wager against one another.

The situation is very murky, indeed. If you are at all in doubt, remember that you can always safely take part in the play-money games offered by the various online poker rooms. There is still great value in this, especially for the beginning poker player, and you can take that knowledge and experience with you on your next trip to Vegas.

*The legal discussions in this book are not to be construed as legal advice, but as general information only. Please see a qualified attorney for any questions about the legality of online gambling.

2005 Deal Me In! Online Cardrooms, Big Time Tournaments, and The New Poker Book. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed)


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