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US DOJ: No Federal Legislation Outlaws Playing or Providing Internet Poker

by Joss Wood, Rakeback.com Poker News Staff Writer

The news comes with the release of a letter written by the DOJ to two senior US Senators; Harry Reid, Majority Leader of the Senate and Senate Minority Whip, Jon Kyle. This letter includes a DOJ legal opinion written in September, but not released until now.

The letter states explicitly:

“…the Wire Act only applies to the transmission of bets or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers relating to sporting events and contests …”

It then explains how this affects internet poker:

“Furthermore, in States that ban various forms of gambling – including internet poker – the Department will be able to investigate and prosecute those gambling businesses under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and other sections of the criminal code.”

A previous court case involving Mastercard has already ruled that poker is not a sporting event or contest. In other words, in any State where the provision of internet poker is not illegal due to State gambling law, it is legal and the Wire Act and UIGEA don’t apply.

Why has this happened?

The UIGEA created a problem for State lotteries that wanted to use out-of-state payment processors and the internet for accepting lottery ticket purchases. Illinois and New York sought a legal opinion from the DOJ. This put the DOJ in a difficult position. It was forced to make a legal interpretation of the Wire Act contrary to its previous public affairs statements which held internet poker to be illegal. 

Future Legislation

The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) has welcomed the news and strongly urged Congress to pass legislation which puts the legal position of internet poker beyond doubt. It is backing H.R. 2366 (Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection, and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011), known as the Barton Bill, which defines non-US regulated internet poker as illegal gambling and gives the DOJ all they need to ban any offshore site from offering internet poker to US players. On the other hand, it does allow for US-based and regulated sites to offer internet poker to US players.

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