Is Online Poker Legal? The UK Gaming Law Revolution

No matter where you are, it is legal to play poker and casino games for play money. If you just want to play for fun, then you are not breaking any laws.

The legal situation varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction when it comes to playing poker online for real money. If you are in the UK then it is perfectly legal to play poker for cash on-line - and it does not matter whether you play at a poker room that is licensed by the UK Gambling commission or not. The UK introduced a new gambling bill in 2005, which was rushed through in the last week before a General Election was called. It brought widespread changes to UK gambling law, including the establishment of a Gaming Commission which will grant Remote Gambling Operative licenses to sites registered in the UK. For the first time online poker rooms will have to abide by a code of conduct in order to obtain and maintain their license, and this means that online poker players finally have some real protection if they elect to play at a poker room licensed in the UK. Strict financial auditing is one requirement, as is independent testing of the random number generator (RNG) used to deal the hands. So, at the very least, you know the cards you are being dealt are truly random, and you also know the poker room is not likely to go bust, and when you do win you will paid in full.

The UK legislation offers a level of legal clarity to UK players sadly absent in the US and much of Europe (though European players do have some protection as the UK is part of the EU). It also compels gambling and sports betting sites to pay out on bets - which, incredibly, they were not obliged to do so in the UK before this legislation! The UK's stance on online gambling seems set to revolutionise the entire online gambling industry. It will be very difficult for other Governments to bring successful law suits against UK companies, based in the UK, abiding by UK laws. This is the main reason that online gambling companies such as PartyGaming (PartyPoker) and SportingBet (ParadisePoker) are listed on the London Stock Exchange.  

In October 2006 the USA passed a bill which made it illegal for gambling sites to accept wagers from players based in the USA.  In response, all of the UK-listed companies (and many others) stopped accepting deposits from American players.  Whilst legal opinion is divided over whether playing poker for money over the internet is itself illegal for US players, the best advice at this moment in time is for all American players to only play in free money games.  If you are a US player and would like to see gambling laws changed, please join the poker players alliance and make your voice heard.  In the meantime, please use the free play options which all poker rooms offer, and sign-up via the alternative free-play links given.

If you are elsewhere in Europe, you are generally not liable to be prosecuted for gambling on-line but do make sure before you start to play. EU states are bound by the EU treaty, which does not distinguish between gambling and any other services, and so all players in all states should, in theory, be able to access gambling sites on an equal footing with UK players. In practice many EU states have tried to use their own laws to prevent their citizens from accessing gambling sites or to prevent gambling sites in other territories from accepting bets from their citizens. What follows is a summary of the overall positions of the major EU countries, quoting from their submissions in recent legal challenges between gambling sites and EU states. It must be stressed that all of the information presented at this site is meant to give a background context on this subject - it is the responsibility of the player to ensure that gambling is legal in their jurisdiction and qualified legal advice should be sought if you are in any doubt.

Austria Gambling Law

“Combating money laundering and terrorism” are justifiable reasons for restricting gambling opportunities and there are concerns that if the “gambling activity is legal but unlicensed in a Member State then effectively it becomes unlicensed everywhere”. Public order objectives can only be adequately safeguarded if left to national control (source: comments on the Directive Proposal on Services).

Belgium Gambling Law

A single gaming market will only incite consumers to squander more and thereby damage society (source: submission re Gambelli case).

Denmark Gambling Law

The main purpose of the restrictive legislation is the “need to uphold legitimate interests with regard to public policy and order as well as to limit damaging social consequences such as problem gambling and fraud. A second ground, which is not without relevance, is that betting and lotteries may make a significant contribution to the financing of benevolent or public interest activities such as social and charitable undertakings, sport or culture” (source: written evidence given jointly by Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway & Iceland to the Pre-legislative Scrutiny Committee for the Draft Gambling Bill in Britain).

Finland Gambling Law

It is for each state to determine if the action it is taking is proportionate in the light of the public policy objectives of each state (source: submission re Gambelli case). In a fairly recent development the Aland Islands, an autonomous part of Finland, now licence remote betting and gaming operations.

France Gambling Law

Restrictions are justifiable if they prevent fraud and protect consumers (source: submission re Gambelli case). France is not against Internet betting per se and in 2003 its monopoly pool betting provider, Pari-Mutuel-Urbain, launched its own online site.  French authorities have recently indicated that they wish to crack down on internet gambling.

Germany Gambling Law

The German approach is complicated because each Länd is responsible for its own gambling policies, but there have been recent local court rulings in favour of cross border gambling.  The German Government has recently indicated that it wishes to crack down on internet gambling.

Greece Gambling Law

Games of chance and betting should remain under state control via a monopoly. Private operations lead to disturbance of the social order, incitement to commit offences, and the exploitation of consumers (source: submission re Gambelli case).

Hungary Gambling Law

Bets taken by foreign bookmakers are deemed to be in breach of Hungarian law which provides for a state monopoly. Action has been initiated against Sportingbet, a British licensed company, because it has a Hungarian language website offering betting.

Ireland Gambling Law

Already permits cross border telephone and Internet betting.

Italy Gambling Law

Protecting state monopolies is justified, on grounds of preventing criminal infiltration and securing revenues for the State. It is also illegal for the consumer to gamble over the Internet and pay by credit card with a bookmaker in another Member State (source: submission re Gambelli case).

Latvia Gambling Law

The new regulatory regime introduced in 2003 includes licences for remote gambling. Luxembourg - restrictions are justifiable if they control the desire to engage in gaming and are proportionate (source: submission re Gambelli case).

Malta Gambling Law

From 2004 cross border remote gambling operations have been licensed and welcomed. Netherlands - in the case brought by the state-owned De Lotto against Ladbrokes an interlocutory decision has been given by the Court of Arnhem that Dutch gambling laws are insufficiently consistent to enable them to prohibit operators in other Member States from offering their products, but a final judgement is still awaited.

Portugal Gambling Law

There is a need to protect state monopolies and national revenues. It is contrary to “social order if money goes to states ‘where the amount of winnings is more attractive.” (source: submission re Gambelli case). It has since been announced that Portugal is considering the possibility of licensing online gaming, but it is unclear whether this would extend to cross border gambling.

Spain Gambling Law

The grant of exclusive rights and exclusion of foreign operators is compatible with the objective of limiting supply (source:submission re Gambelli case).

Sweden Gambling Law

Restrictions imposed for tax reasons are not necessarily contrary to Community law, as long as they are proportionate and do not discriminate between operators (source:submission re Gambelli case.) (Source : Association Of Remote Gambling Operatives, www.argo.org.uk)

United States Gambling Law.

If you are in the United States, on-line gambling law is a mess.  The legislation passed in October 2006 makes it an offence for gambling websites to accept wagers from US players.  The legislation was rushed through, and is widely reported to be poorly drafted, confusing, and difficult to enforce. Whilst the bill itself does not explicitly widen the scope of the 1961 Wire Act (which prohibits sports betting over the telephone) the current administration is clearly very hostile to online gambling and US players are advised only to play at play-money sites until further notice.

Canada Gambling Law

Neither federal nor provincial governments have officially legalised on-line gambling, and so it remains a grey area. Betting by telephone is allowed, however, and some have argued that betting on-line is merely an extension of betting by telephone.  The two major pieces of legislation that might relate to online poker are sections 202 and 206.  Section 202 creates offences with regard to betting (gambling on external events) and section 206 creates offences with regard to lotteries and gaming (gambling on one's own competetive activities).  Poker is not overtly covered by either section : it would appear to be a "gaming" activity rather than a "betting" activity, and thus falls under section 206 rather than section 202.  However section 202 relates to games of pure chance.  Since poker is a game of both skill and chance, rather than pure chance, legal officials have to date considered Poker to fall outside the remit of section 202.  There have been no prosecutions of online poker players, and the Government has not indicated any intention to prosecute players, which has resulted in a huge growth in the number of Canadians playing online.

Japan, China, Hong Kong Gambling Law

If you're in Japan, gambling is currently illegal, but the Government is considering new legislation that will make certain gambling activities legal. Gambling is illegal in China / Hong Kong (though it is estimated that several million Chinese players play every night).

Legal Gambling Age

All the above is an attempt to give some context to this subject, but this should not be used as a substitute for qualified legal advice. This site is based in the UK and is aimed at other players based in the UK, where online gambling is legal.  If you live outside of the UK and wish to gamble for real money please take legal advice before proceeding.  It is your responsibility to ensure that gambling is legal in your jurisdiction before you play. Please note countries differ with regard to minimum ages for gambling - in the UK it is currently 18 but in many other countries it is 21.

Gambling Transactions On Credit Cards

Most credit card companies will block gambling transactions, so if you do choose to play you will have to find a different way to deposit money. See the section on poker room deposit options for more details.

What are the rules governing gambling and how do they affect me?

The result of gambling prohibition in the US and elsewhere is that none of the casinos that operate an internet gambling service are based in the US. Of the 85 jurisdictions where it is legal to run online casinos, most operators favour off-shore islands such as Antigua, Curacoa & Gibraltar, who offer the casinos a relaxed tax regime and an even more relaxed approach to regulation. So how do the rules governing gambling affect you? Adversely. They leave you with almost no protection against unscrupulous operators. For this reason, you need to choose where you gamble very wisely, and only ever hand money over to reputable casinos or poker rooms. See the section on "Reputable Poker Sites" for a selection of sites that have demonstrated over a long period of time that they can be relied upon to treat you fairly - and see the section on "Blacklisted sites" for a whole bunch of sites to avoid entirely. For a primer on the gambling regulatory bodies that may afford you protection in the event of a dispute with an internet gambling site,see "Who do the gambling sites answer to?" in the "Who runs what online" section.

Golden Rule Of Poker

Reputable / Trusted Poker Rooms