Nevada Legalizes Online Poker
In February 2013 a bill to legalize online poker gaming was quietly signed into law by Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval. It allows the Nevada State Gaming Board to regulate and monitor online gaming activities within the borders of the state. Currently the only site licensed to operate under this law is Ultimate Poker, but online game developer Zynga and more than a dozen other companies have already applied for licenses. The catch is, money players are required to be physically present in Nevada, and 21 or older.
The new law marks a major change from just over two years ago when online poker in the United States was rocked by what players came to call Black Friday. That was when the Department of Justice unexpectedly indicted a number of well-known players from the three largest US online sites, causing the entire domestic industry to go dark almost overnight. At the time, gaming forums such as Cards Chat were afire with the news.
Many players across the US were left no alternative other than to stop playing or switch to offshore gaming sites, many of which were considered illegal. Those few who had access to traditional brick and mortar gaming establishments could still get dressed and go out to play, but many of them simply moved to countries with more friendly policies towards poker players.
Debates continued to rage over the issue as to whether online poker was legal, and if so, to what extent it should be regulated. Opponents considered it a form of gambling, citing it as an unsavory vice. They argued that it was a financial and moral drain on communities, families, and taxpayers. Proponents argued that poker, unlike roulette or slots, was not a game of chance, but rather a game of skill, and that the taxes on winning were a boon to states.
While arguments remain both for and against poker, perhaps the strongest among them is that of William E. Baxter Jr. vs. the United States. This landmark case was decided in favor of ‘Billy’ Baxter in 1986. It ruled that poker earnings were no different than those of any other profession, meaning that players across the country could claim expenses, deduct losses, and even invest their winnings into retirement accounts. Despite common knowledge of this ruling on both sides of the issue, a quick check of Cards Chat will show that the debate still rages.
However, there has been a subtle but effective public relations campaign in the poker world since Black Friday. No longer is the word ‘gambling’ associated with poker. The press release issued by the Nevada Gaming Control Board makes no mention of the word, and a search of Ultimate Poker also does not show a single instance of it. Instead, poker is repeatedly referred to as a game of skill, subtly and effectively associating with the ruling of William E. Baxter Jr. vs. the United States. This makes it no different than basketball, football, or golf.
It should be noted that Delaware and New Jersey also have laws supporting online gaming, but Nevada is the only one of the three states legally operating online poker. That isn’t to say that there aren’t other sites in different states offering similar games, but rather that Ultimate Poker is the first instance of an operational state legalized online poker game. It may seem like a small technicality, but history has shown that individuals are very much are subject to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (or UIGEA). Despite arguments by many that poker is a game of skill, Black Friday showed that the Department of Justice was clearly willing to pursue individuals who violate the provisions of the UIGEA. Since it does not regulate intrastate activities, any state supported and regulated industry is a safe place to play.