Legal Online Poker Sites
The issue of online legality is an important one for players. No one wants to break the law by playing poker online, and no one wants to play at a site that is clearly in violation of the law, as it exposes you (and your bankroll) to substantial risk.
Unfortunately, the legal picture for online poker is as cloudy as it is critical. There are literally tens of thousands of different laws around the globe that could apply to online poker in different ways, presenting you with a real challenge when it comes to sorting out which poker sites are legal and which should be avoided.
Existing Gambling Law May or May Not Apply to Online Poker
One of the things that makes online poker such a tricky legal matter is that many governments have laws regarding gambling that predate the invention of the Internet (often by a wide margin). These laws can refer to forms of gambling that no longer exist, or are written to specifically apply to gambling in certain physical places. How such laws apply to activity conducted online, and what country has jurisdiction over an act when it takes place across the world are just two of the questions that make applying such laws to online gambling a very complicated undertaking.
With these general principles established, let's conduct a brief survey of the three major online poker markets and sketch their general legal attitudes on the issue of online poker.
Online Poker Can Be a Local Legal Issue
Laws regarding gambling are sometimes set at the highest levels of government, but many central governments do hand off the job of writing gambling law to local governments. As a result, players have a strong motivation to start their research at the local level when determining if online poker is legal in their area.
Online Poker Legality: The United States
The United States has perhaps the most convoluted picture of the group when it comes to the legal status of online poker. Federal law in the United States does not directly address playing poker online (or online poker at all), but there are a few states in the US with laws that do appear to make gambling online for real money a crime. Most agree that the penalties are minor in such states, and that the risk of actual prosecution is basically nil, but players from the US will certainly want to educate themselves regarding their state (and local) anti-gambling laws so that they can get all of the facts and evaluate what risk - if any - they might face by playing online poker.
Online poker players in the United States face a particular challenge when it comes to picking a legal US online poker site. The thing players want to be concerned with first is whether they're breaking the law by playing online poker, an issue that will be determined primarily by their state laws. After making that determination, players should select a site that is licensed and regulated to ensure that they're playing on a poker site that is operating legally in the jurisdiction where the site is based.
Our pick for the best legal poker site for US players is Bovada Poker. Assuming your state law allows you to play poker online for real money, Bovada Poker is an excellent choice - the site is fully licensed, regulated and offers players a secure, legal online poker experience.
Obviously offering legal poker is only one part of the equation - rooms need to also have enough games, quality promotions and software that permits stable and fair play. Bovada Poker scores favorably on all counts, with an extensive track record in the industry for providing players with a product that's both high-quality and a lot of fun to play.
Online Poker Legality: European & UK Poker Sites
Generally speaking, players in the EU and the UK have a legal green light when it comes to online poker. Some countries have restrictions on what sites residents can play at, others may host state-run sites, but the bottom line is that appropriately licensed and regulated operators can offer legal online poker option to players from countries in the European Union and the United Kingdom in nearly all cases.
Online Poker Legality: Canadian Poker Sites
While Canadian law regarding operating an online poker room is a bit vague, there appears to be no legal risk for players in canada who log on and play poker for money online. Major Canadian poker operators - including publicly traded companies such as 888 and Party Poker that are very sensitive to legal issues - operate openly in the country.
Legal to Play vs Legal to Operate
Here's an important tidbit for those researching legal online poker options: There's often a big distinction between playing versus operating in the law, and that distinction can have very important implications for individuals involved in online poker.
What do we mean when we say playing versus operating? Simple: Playing is the act of doing just that - participating in games at an online poker room. Operating, on the other hand, involves participating in the business of the room (developing, managing, promoting and so on). While the law is different in each region, knowing the law for both players and operators is the only way to fully know whether or not you are in compliance.
Gambling Law is Generally a Local Issue
Researching gambling law can be a frustrating process, and researching online gambling law can be doubly annoying. One quick tip that can make the whole experience a lot easier: Gambling law is always almost a matter handled by local law. As a result, if you start your research at the granular level and work your way up, you'll have a much better idea of the relevant law regarding gambling and how it specifically applies to your situation.
The legal situation surrounding online gambling will eventually become clearer for players, but until that point players have a responsibility to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work of researching and understanding online gambling law. Hopefully we've provided you with a reasonable starting point in your search for the top legal poker sites online, a list that is as dynamic and evolving as the law that surrounds it.