Read First: I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. This is my understanding based on past events that I’ve observed, having read many legal papers, and common industry opinions.
Short Version: Yes, Playing Poker Online is Legal in the US. There are no federal laws that make online poker illegal and no poker player in the United States has ever been prosecuted for playing this game.
This is probably the #1 question everyone looking to play poker online has. The answer is that yes, playing online poker in the US is perfectly legal, with the exception of a few states that have specifically banned it (like Washington state).
So why is this such a hot question? and why do many people state that playing online poker is “illegal”?
The main confusion comes from a law passed in 2006 that president George W Bush added, at the last minute, to the Safe Port Act. The law is the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 or UIEGA for short. You can read about it in detail in the references below, but the act does not specifically ban online poker or make it illegal for US citizens to play poker online. The law was designed to restrict financial institutions from processing payments to online gambling business, something that financial institutions had being doing voluntarily for years. UIGEA relies on gambling to be unlawful under existing federal or state law. There are currently no federal laws making online poker unlawful, as the US DOJ has reversed their position on the Wire Act applying to poker. There are only a handful of state laws that specifically make online poker illegal. Information on each states laws can be viewed here.
Also adding to the confusion is the Wire Act of 1961 which the Department of Justice had long argued applied to online poker. Well that was how they “interpreted” the law for a long time but then in December of 2011, the US DOJ seemingly did a complete 180 turn on their long held position stating that they now believed it only applies to sports betting. Why was the US Department of Justice confused on how the Wire Act applied to online poker? It’s because of how they were “interpreting” the law, as the law does not specifically make online poker illegal.
The good news is that although it is harder to transfer money to a poker room from your bank account, there are still a number of poker rooms that cater to US players, accept money for US players, and host thousands of poker players from the US who are playing online right now.
Further Reading – If you want to know more about either the UIGEA or the Wire Act, the links below are some of most well researched available.