What is the UIGEA?

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act is often referred to as the UIGEA. The UIGEA was attached to the Safe Port Act in 2006 by Bill Frist and Jon Kyl. This legislation was a “must pass” bill and pertained to preventing terrorism at ports of entry in the United States. The UIGEA was completely unrelated and the contents of the law were never read in Congress. Many that voted on this bill never knew that the UIGEA was included in the Safe Port Act language. This law was passed by both houses of Congress on September 30, 2006. It passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 409-2 and passed the. Senate unanimously on the last day of Congress before the midterm election recess. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law on October 13, 2006.

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The UIGEA made it illegal for banks to knowingly process online gambling transactions. The regulations would later make it clear that online gambling deposits were covered by this act but withdrawals were not specifically included. The law was hastily written and included several typographical errors and other mistakes such as failing to define exactly what games were considered gambling under the act. The law specifically exempted fantasy sports by the request of professional sports leagues. Horse racing and state lotteries are also implied as being exempted. The consensus is also that games of skill received a carveout.

Mass Exodus from U.S. Market

On the day of the signing of bill into law by President Bush, dozens of online poker rooms left the U.S. market. These included Party Poker, Paradise Poker, 888, PKR, and entire networks such as Ongame, iPoker, Cryptologic, Boss Media, and Entraction.  Microgaming took an unusual route. They decided to only exclude players from states where a state law covering casino licensing or online gambling expressly prohibited their business. Some major online poker rooms stayed in the U.S. market. These included PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, Ultimate Bet, and Planet Poker.

What does this mean to players?

This law only covers banks, payment processors, and site operators. Players are immune from prosecution under the UIGEA. Many people have the opinion that poker is a game of skill and not covered under the UIGEA. While the government does not share this opinion, no court has ever ruled either way on the matter. The only effect this has on players in the U.S. is that it makes hit harder to deposit and withdrawal from online poker rooms.

Are there other laws that apply to online poker?

Two states make it specifically illegal to play online poker. These states are Washington State and Utah. It is a felony to play online poker or play any other form of online gambling in Washington. There is no other state in the U.S. with this type of restriction. Due to this, there are no online poker rooms that accept players from Washington State. It is a misdemeanor to play online poker in Utah. The Winning Poker network, which includes True Poker and Americas Cardroom, still accepts players from Utah.