Is It Safe To Play Poker Online?

2007 – #2 © Copyright 2007, all rights reserved worldwide. Gambling and the Law® is a registered trademark of Professor I Nelson Rose, www.GambliingAndTheLaw.com.

Most online poker players were merely annoyed when the failed politician, Bill Frist, used his position as Senate Majority Leader last year to ram his Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act through the Republican-controlled Congress. Sites run by publicly traded companies, including the largest, PartyPoker, stopped accepting players from the U.S. But privately owned Internet poker rooms found their businesses doubling.

Similarly, when, first PayPal and then FirePay, announced they would no longer send or receive funds from gaming sites, players poured even more money into the leading e-wallet, Neteller.

Then, the founders of Neteller were arrested, and the company, without warning, dropped the American gaming market. Neteller compounded the crisis by freezing all American accounts.

Online poker players have had to turn to other means to load funds on websites. But most banks decided years ago not to allow their credit cards to be used for 7995 transactions, the merchant code for online gaming.

The Department of Justice also sent subpoenas to the investment banks, accountants, and even law firms, responsible for taking Internet gaming companies public on the London exchange.

Business for many Internet poker sites has dropped by 25% or more. Players are not only finding it difficult to get funds transferred. They are scared.

I receive e-mails every day from player who want to know if they are going to be arrested because they have played poker online. Some have asked for and received checks from poker operators, and are now afraid to cash the checks.

` So, to answer these concerns:

1) You are not going to go to jail for merely playing poker online. It is not a federal crime to make a bet. Half the states do have ancient laws on the books making it a crime, sometimes, to make a bet. But these are never enforced. I have been unable to find anyone who has been charged, let alone convicted, for playing Internet poker.

2) It is safe to cash or deposit checks from online poker operators. Be aware that Americans are supposed to report and pay taxes on virtually all income from any source. The only crime the federal government really cares about when it comes to gamblers is tax evasion.

3) Your money can get tied up if a gaming operator or e-wallet decides to stop dealing with Americans. It has been more than six months since the CEO of BetOnSports was arrested changing planes in Dallas, and the money in its American former patrons’ accounts is still tied up. Players will probably get 100% of their money back. Eventually. Without interest. So, do not keep too much money in any one place.

4) Be careful about new sites. Unscrupulous operators can jump in to fill the vacuum. The danger is greater with e-wallets than with gaming operators. Today, a crooked poker site would be slammed by players all over the blogosphere. But a crooked bank could act legitimately, until its operators disappeared with all the funds.

5) Although there is virtually no chance of getting arrested, you can get into trouble by playing poker on the Internet, when you use someone else’s computer. The company you work for owns the office computers, and can legally spy on what you are doing. While it is not a crime under federal law to make a bet, it is grounds for dismissal if you are a federal employee gambling on federal property. Similarly, some colleges don’t want gambling to take place in their dorms on their central computer systems.

Remember, even though there is money involved, it’s not worth losing your job for or getting kicked out of school – it’s only a game.

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© Copyright 2007. Professor I Nelson Rose is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on gambling law. His latest books, Gaming Law: Cases and Materials and Internet Gaming Law, are available through his website, www.GamblingAndTheLaw.com.