This blog is mostly my attempt to vent my frustrations at my government’s interference in the world of online gambling. Meant for those who are unaware of our government’s history, I’ll lay out the coordinated attack that my country has laid on my favorite pastime (and until yesterday, main source of income).
Thanks to new legislation, many folks have become aware of a law passed in 1961 called the Wire Act. This made offshore sports betting illegal. It’s important to keep in mind that it wasn’t possible to play poker over a phone line at this time, because the internet was many years in the future. But expert interpretation of the law concluded that this didn’t include poker, blackjack, etc. after these games were introduced.
In 2006, the US Congress passed a law with an earmark referred to as the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act). This didn’t change the status of online gambling – it was an “enforcement” act, that simply went on to enforce what was, previous to this bill, unlawful. While this didn’t include internet poker, US Republicans spoke to the media as if it did*. The US Democratic party has since tried to overturn this law, also under the assumption that it somehow prohibited online poker.
So how do I know that online poker was (and is) legal? After all, the Wire Act could’ve been interpreted to cover this also. Well, there was a federal case in 2001 where several poker players, after losing millions to an online poker site, sued that site. They claimed that the online poker site was committing fraud, and therefore owed them their money back. While this may be silly on ethical or logical grounds, it would’ve been legally sound – but the court found that the Wire Act did not cover online poker.
A supreme court decision makes the interpretation of the law set in stone, so there would be no more federal trials of this sort. However, shortly before passing the UIEGA, the US government had this tried in an international court (US vs Antigua). The World Trade Organization found the US to be out of line, stating that they didn’t have legal precedent for trying to stop offshore (Antigua is an island in the Carribean) gambling sites from operating in the United States.
So the issue is finally over, right? Wrong. The US blocked service from an EWallet service (a middleman that allows you to move money from a bank account to an offshore account, such as a poker account) called NETeller. This company lost millions as a result, and rather than fight this legal issue for years, finally decided to give up and no longer offer its services to Americans. This case, unfortunately, never saw its end in a courtroom. Our government simply bullied them into submission, despite not having a legal backing for its case.
They’ve now done this to the popular online gambling sites. I imagine you’ll still see what I saw at www.FullTiltPoker.com, a federal notice that they’ve shut down business in the US. I can’t get back to a table, nor can I access my poker funds (despite a lack of allegation that poker players have done anything illegal). I hope you can see, with a little bit of history, why I consider the US Government a bully when it comes to the regulation of online gambling.
*Sorry that I can’t cite this… I simply couldn’t find a related article. If anyone does find an article about congress members speaking about the UIGEA at the time of its passing (specifically Republicans or Focus on the Family, the lobbying group behind the provision) I’d appreciate a link.