There has been a lot of talk lately in the United States about legalizing online gambling at a federal level. Representative Barney Frank and Senator Robert Menendez proposed legislation that would repeal the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a onetime opponent of online gambling, proposed a bill that would regulate online poker (and only the game of poker) at the federal level.
All three efforts failed. Frank’s bill passed a committee vote in the House but never received a full floor vote. Menendez’s bill never even made it that far. Reid considered attaching the online poker bill to other legislation during the lame duck session, but now it seems that won’t happen.
What does this means for blackjack players? Does that mean it’s still illegal to play online blackjack in the United States?
This may surprise you, but the answer is no. Not only that, but it has never been illegal to play online blackjack in the United States, except in the few states that ban the activity. There is not nor has there ever been a federal law that bans online gambling. UIGEA makes it illegal for financial institutions to conduct transactions involving “unlawful” online gambling. Not only does that not make anything the player does illegal, but the law never defines what forms of gambling are illegal. Therefore, UIGEA does not ban any game. It is a position held not only by me but also by the courts.
Whenever people say that online blackjack and other forms of online gambling are illegal in America, they either point to UIGEA or the Interstate Wire Act. The Wire Act, passed in 1961, prohibits using wired communications to place bets on a sporting event or contest. The courts, including the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, have ruled that the Wire Act only bans sports betting. All other forms of gambling, including casino games, are not affected by the Wire Act.
Since neither UIGEA or the Wire Act bans online blackjack, it is perfectly legal to play the game in the United States, as long as the state in which you reside doesn’t have a law banning it. Be sure to check out your local laws to be sure, but in most cases, you are not breaking the law to play the game.