Is Internet Gambling Illegal in the U.S.?

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Over at News.com, occasional Reason contributor Declan McCullagh–he penned our June 2004 cover story about "the upside of 'zero privacy'"–asks whether internet gambling is, in fact, illegal in the United States. The immediate context for raising the question is a complicated World Trade Organization flap in which Antigua, home to many online casinos, is accusing the U.S. of protectionist policies.

But the most curious aspect of the topic is the vague status of Internet gambling in America, which leads to passages like this:

Even though the Justice Department believes that Internet gambling is illegal, it's become wildly popular in the last few years. The industry was expected to collect revenues of between $4.2 billion and $5 billion in 2003, according to a Government Accountability Office study.

Declan's whole story is here.

A few years back, Reason looked into online gambling; we couldn't figure out the precise legal status of things back then. Our stuff, and a shot of poker-playing dogs in cyberspace, here.

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  1. I don’t know about anyone else, but the only reason I clicked that link was to see a picture of dogs playing cyber poker, and I was not disappointed.

  2. It’s never been *legal*. Ever. Not even the first day it came out. The laws are very clear; not sure what the confusion is.

    I remember when the internet came out. Every law journal article on it had an obligatory section explaining what the internet is (“an interconnected blah blah blah DARPA blah blah blah”). Those were the days.

    Then a bunch of lobbyists started going to Congress and saying goofy things like “but we can’t SAY where the actions are taking place… they’re in CYBERspace…. woooooooohhhh CYBER space! That’s not even a real place.”

    Never mind that you’ve got a pudwacker in New Jersey sitting at a computer placing a bet the same as if he’s calling it in on the phone.

    Maybe the lobbyists could have gotten phone gambling legalized if they’d just said “but sir, where is the transaction taking place? It’s in PHONE-space… ooooooohhhh PHONE space.” Same thing.

    Not that I care, mind you. I’m happy to see Big Brother look the other way for a change. It *shouldn’t* be illegal, but anybody who even remotely thinks for a second there’s even a slight question about this is either looking in the wrong places, or has some kind of vested interest in not seeing the obvious.

  3. “the only reason I clicked that link was to see a picture of dogs playing cyber poker, and I was not disappointed.”

    Me too, but I *was* disappointed. The picture is way too small! Great picture though. Is there a larger version?

  4. It’s de facto legal, and isn’t that all that really matters? Okay, maybe not. . selective enforcement kind of kicks you in the ass.

    The current route the Justice Department is taking is pressuring credit card companies to not allow payments to online bookies. My MBNA and MasterCard stopped working at certain Houses of Sports Prediction in Antigua a couple of years ago. As always, the market perceived the regulation as damage and routed around it.

  5. 5 bucks says it isn’t.

  6. “The current route the Justice Department is taking is pressuring credit card companies to not allow payments to online bookies”

    Hah! Serves all of you right for laughing at flooz.com!!! Who’s laughing now? The DOJ couldn’t have regulated the flow of Flooz, but they sure can stop your Visa card dead in its tracks! Mwaaahahhaaahaahaahaaa!!!!

  7. Thanks to proxy technologies, Paypal, and strong encryption, the same too-fucking-bad attitude we can give to the French in re: Yahoo, we can also give to our own government. It doesn’t matter whether its legal or illegal. Too fucking bad.

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