Poker law around the world and throughout the United States varies as widely as the types of players who play on the green and virtual felt. From the European Union all the way down to town and municipalities, opinions differ greatly on what poker law is and should be. Poker law has been a hot topic for years and with the battle over online poker law still raging, everyone from politicians to John Q. Public seems to have an opinion. It is estimated that as many as 80 million Americans play poker on a regular basis and poker law affects each and everyone of us.
HOME GAMES - BUSTED
It is a common belief that playing in your weekly home game amongst friends is socially acceptable and does not break any poker law that might be on the books. There is a notion that unlawful gambling is limited to games that have an edge to the "house" such as craps, roulette and that as long as a home poker game is not raked that no poker law is being broken. With the huge boom in poker over the past several years, this misconception has resulted in several unforeseen run-ins with the authorities for your average poker player. Not knowing the poker law of the land in your area can prove costly and embarrassing.
"Social gambling" which most home game poker would be considered, is clearly protected in many states. Poker law in Alaska, Arizona, Michigan, Texas, Virginia and Washington clearly allows for home games. Stipulations in the poker law of these states insist that games are to not have any house advantage or rake and it seems to be understood through the poker law of these states that the games should be private gatherings only.
Poker law in California, Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee strictly prohibit any type of private gaming and the statutes that would cover poker law make it clear that no gaming of any kind is acceptable. Pennsylvania poker law holds the game's organizer responsible for committing an unlawful act while Oklahoma goes so far as to give different penalties for organizers vs players in their poker law. Poker law in these states calls for penalties as low as a $25-$100 fine, 1-30 days in jail or much larger fines with felony charges for breaking poker law as someone who is running the game. The state of Ohio makes no mention of home poker games but their poker law strictly prohibits organizing any game of chance with the "house" being guilty of a misdemeanor.
AM I BREAKING POKER LAW BY PLAYING ONLINE?
Online poker law is also a hot topic and clearly defining what is legal and what is not from a poker law standpoint can be extremely challenging. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 is a poker law that has come under a great deal of fire since its passing and is also a poker law that is often misunderstood. The one thing that does seem clear from a federal poker law standpoint is that the US government is primarily interested in deterring organized crime. The common theme in the poker law and how it is related to the Wire Act is that it targets those who would set up, run and profit from any online gaming. The individual player goes unmentioned and therefore assumed not guilty of breaking any federal poker law. The World Trade Organization and the European Union have both spoken out against the UIGEA poker law as it was passed and lawsuits were immediately filed. Countries such as Antigua, that hosted and profited significantly from online gaming sites, have won settlements by the WTO against the US government and their poker law.
Online poker law continues to be debated and studied by various organizations and committees on both federal and state levels. One of the most recent poker law battles that caused a significant stir was a Massachusetts House poker law that would have enable the state to prosecute online poker players. The Massachusetts gambling bill was defeated and therefore voted back for more study by a 106-48 margin. This decision kills this potential poker law for at least the remainder of this year. The proposed poker law in Massachusetts would have allowed for punishment of online players to include fines up to $25,000 and possible jail time of up to two years.
By the global nature of the online game alone, poker law has found its way into courtrooms and legal battles around the world. The European Union is currently investigating discrimination in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) poker law. The UK-based Remote Gambling Association (RGA) claims that the US is selectively enforcing their gambling laws against foreign providers. The international fight over poker law enacted by the US government is far from over and will play a big part in how the future landscape of online poker and the poker law changes will take shape. The EU has aggressively challenged poker law in countries like Germany, Sweden, Finland and Greece to name a few. Germany has enacted a ban against online gaming which the EU has openly rejected. The Netherlands, Greece and Sweden have put restrictions into place regarding poker law for their citizens, attempting to allow only companies based in their respective countries to be allowed to do business with their constituents. The EU is fighting vehemently against these actions that affect poker law throughout Europe and cites the notion that "monopolies" are not congruent with the overall European law. The EU insists that these types of restrictions be removed. Online poker law and the availabity of certain sites throughout Europe will be greatly affected by these actions.
ATTN: TOURNEY PLAYERS - IRS REPORTING EFFECTIVE NOW
Poker law in regards to taxation has also been revamped of late. On March 4th, 2008, casinos began to be required to gather information about tournament players who win $5,000 or more. This poker law was changed in an attempt to put more responsibility on tournament organizers and cardrooms to make sure taxes are being paid. The new tax poker law requires that winnings be reported on a Form W-2G, Certain Gambling Winnings. The new tax poker law does not require that your local casino withhold any portion of tournament winnings that exceed $5,000 but does penalize them for failing to report. The new poker law relating to taxation of winnings requires the tournament sponsors to retrieve your taxpayer identification number (this is your Social Security Number is most cases) and if you do not provide the information, the tax poker law requires the tournament sponsors to withhold 28% of the winnings. The tax rate according to this poker law on winnings is 25%.
In summary, poker law is a constantly changing piece of the poker fabric. Struggles continue on both local and international levels regarding poker law and its clear that for the short term, "it depends" is going to be the answer to many questions regarding poker law especially when it comes to playing online. Protect yourself by finding out what poker law applies in your jurisdiction and supporting organization like the Poker Players Alliance will give us all a say in what poker law changes and revision are made in the foreseeable future.