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US Poker & Gambling Bills

Following the events of Black Friday in April 2011, we’ve seen more attempts than ever to legalize online poker on either a state or federal level.

Not that we blame anyone for trying. Legalizing online poker would be beneficial in numerous ways, such as:

  • Revenue. Legal gambling would generate billions in revenue for both the nation and individual states. In fact, representatives and supporters of legal online poker in California estimate that $200+ million could be generated in the first year alone, thanks to licensing fees and taxes. Now, just think if that was for all 50 states…
  • Protection. Players would be protected from unregulated operators that cannot be pursued by the US government. Companies operating from the states would be held to strict guidelines, and punished severely if unlicensed or treating players unfairly.
  • Jobs. New companies would mean job creation and growth.
  • Peace of mind. It would be great knowing that I could play poker for money without having to fear the DOJ knocking down my door, or my bank closing my account because I like to play Texas holdem on the weekends for fun.

There is no shortage of reasons as to why online poker (or gambling) should be legal in the United States. Freedom is another one.

Since the 2011 Department of Justice ruled that states are not bound by the Wire Act with regard to any type of online gambling except sports betting, numerous states have taken it upon themselves to legalize online poker and casino games. Unfortunately, this has kept members of Congress from trying to do the same on a federal level. But as more states legalize internet poker, there are more chances to link those states to create larger prize pools. It is only a matter of time.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the gambling bills that have passed and failed, both on the federal and state level.

Online Poker / Gambling Bills & Acts

Michigan HB.4311 incorporated into Act 152: The final Lawful Internet Gaming Act that became law for the people of Michigan was vastly different from the original one proposed earlier in 2019 by Rep. Brandt Iden. But concessions were required to pass the bill, and it did pass at the very end of the year. The details are on the Michigan state page.

West Virginia HB.2934 incorporated into Chapter 29: This was a fairly standard online poker and casino games bill passed in early 2019. It required little debate or change, as it was clearly written and garnered enough support for passage. For more information, visit the West Virginia state page.

Pennsylvania HB.271 incorporated into Title 4: The House bill was the one that went down to the wire in Pennsylvania, pushing both houses of the state legislature to make some concessions to pass this significant gambling expansion bill for Pennsylvania. It passed in October 2017, and Governor Tom Wolf signed it into law days later. Visit the PA state page for more info.

Delaware HB.333 incorporated into Chapter 285: The Delaware Gaming Competitiveness Act of 2012 is now a part of the state law, having put internet gaming under the supervision of the Delaware Lottery. The law essentially expanded the lottery’s offerings to allow racinos to benefit from expanded online gambling options. The Delaware state page provides more detail.

H.R. 2366 – Also known as the Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011. This bill was introduced on June 24, 2011 by Texas Rep. Joe Barton. It failed in 2013, a short time before he introduced his new bill, the Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013.

Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013 – This is Texas Rep. Joe Barton’s most recent attempt to legalize online poker at the federal level. This bill will require that operators are licensed before offering online games, or else they face harsh penalties. What’s unique about this bill is that their bad actors clause is temporary, whereas other bills prohibit operators from receiving a license permanently if they were convicted of breaking gambling laws.

Internet Skill Game Licensing and Control Act of 2008 – This bill was introduced on September 26, 2008 by Sen. Robert Menendez. It died in 2009. The point of this was to legalize skill games, as opposed to only poker which so many other bills focus on. That includes card games, dice, tiles and bridge. It would’ve prohibited small games of chance.

Internet Wagering Citizens Protection Act – This bill is unique in that it wasn’t drafted by a congressman. It was written up by part-time poker pro Martin Shapiro. He created this bill in three weeks by combining three already drafted bills. His goal isn’t to get this bill to pass, but to instead provide a guide for all lawmakers to follow. What I like most about his approach is that he took other poker players thoughts and comments into consideration during the editing process, before sending the bill off to lawmakers for consideration.

New Jersey A.2578 incorporated into Title 5: This Assembly bill became the law of New Jersey and launched what would become the largest internet gaming revenue-producing state in America, from the time it launched through 2019. This bill also set the standard by which most other states have patterned their bills and proposals to legalize online poker and other forms of internet gaming. The NJ state page contains more information.

The Internet Gambling Regulation, Enforcement and Consumer Protection Act of 2013 – This bill is similar to Joe Barton’s H.R. 2666 that recently failed. It was introduced by Peter Kling, a New York representative, on June 6, 2013. If passed, it would legalize all forms of online gambling, with the exception of sports betting. That creates a catch 22, because legalizing all games will be much harder then legalizing just one type of game, such as poker.

What Does It Take For a Bill to Pass?

A bill can take several years to turn into law. Here is an outline of the process: [1]

  • A representative takes and idea and drafts (writes) the bill.
  • The representative finds representatives and sponsors to support the bill.
  • The bill is introduced to the House of Representatives.
  • The bill is reviewed, researched and revised by the committee.
  • Once the committee approves the bill, it’s sent to the House to be debated on.
  • A vote is held. If the majority vote yes, the bill is referred to the Senate.
  • If the majority of votes are yes, the bill is sent to the president.
  • The president an choose to sign or veto (say no) to the bill
  • If the bill is signed, it becomes law.

Once the bill becomes law, it’s no longer referred to as a bill, but instead an Act.

Becoming an Act is an unlikely future for the majority of bills introduced. According to my research less than 5% of bills are approved.

This information is specific to the federal government and may apply to some states. However, state processes may vary depending upon the format of each state legislature, necessary votes, and governor approval requirements.

How Long From the Bill Passing to a Live Poker Site?

This is impossible to say at the federal level because it has yet to be done.

On the state level, though, it depends on the state. For example, Nevada launched its first online poker site within one year of legalizing online poker. New Jersey and Delaware launched sites fairly quickly as well. Pennsylvania, however, took nearly two years to launch its first online casino sites and more than two years for the first online poker site.

Most states are being cautious in order to get it right. Pennsylvania took its time, and Michigan and West Virginia plan to do the same. They are consulting with regulators in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and allowing plenty of time to write regulations, accept license applications, issue licenses, and move forward from there.


About Jennifer Newell

Jennifer began writing about poker while working at the World Poker Tour in the mid-2000s. Since then, her freelance writing career has taken her from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back to her hometown of St. Louis, where she now lives with her two dogs. She continues to follow the poker world as she also launches a new subscription box company and finishes her first novel. Jennifer has written for numerous publications including PokerStars.com and has followed the US poker and gaming market closely for the last 15 years. Follow Jen on Twitter

Disclaimer: The information on this site is my interpretation of the laws as made available online. It is in no way meant to serve as legal advice or instruction. We recommend that you seek legal advice from a licensed attorney for further or official guidance.