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Is Internet poker legal? Is it illegal? Will we ever get an answer?
Well, we might have just gotten one and it comes in the form of an opinion released by the Justice Department. In a response to a request by Illinois and New York, the agency explained its take on the Wire Act of 1961 -- the federal law that purports to ban online poker.
And for some online poker players, the opinion seems to be a good thing.
The Justice Department has long held that the Wire Act bans the use of interstate communication facilities (Internet, telephone) to place any bets or wagers. But the new legal opinion limits the law's application to bets and wagers placed on sporting events or contests.
Poker is arguably not a sporting event. And if you're playing, you're arguably not placing a bet on the game.
This sounds great, but don't get ahead of yourself. Even though the Wire Act doesn't apply to Internet poker, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) does. It helped snag Full Tilt Poker and the other sites earlier this year.
The UIEGA still makes it illegal to place, receive or transmit an online bet in a jurisdiction where doing so is prohibited by state law. Nevada and the District of Columbia are the only two places to have legalized Internet poker.
This means that persons located in Nevada and D.C. can play against one another. But because Internet poker is not legal in California or Texas, persons in those states can't play Internet poker -- not even on a Nevada-operated site.
So if the Justice Department stands behind its opinion, Internet poker is legal -- but only if you and your opponents are allowed to play under state law.