A Brief History of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA)

UIGEA Poker Law

Five letters still send a shudder through most US poker players in 2024: U. I. G. E. A.

Put them together and you get the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, possibly the most controversial piece of US gaming legislation passed since the 1961 Wire Act itself.

UIGEA was made law in October, 2006, tacked onto the end of the SAFE Port Act, which was voted through Congress with the aim of stemming the flow of cash to terrorist organizations.

What happened, though, was that many voted for UIGEA purely by accident, and some in Congress have been campaigning to have it repealed ever since.

What Is UIGEA?

Contrary to popular belief, UIGEA doesn’t make playing poker illegal, merely the transferring and processing of funds online.

The actual law states that “restricted transactions” associated with “unlawful Internet gambling” are outlawed.

Despite the controversial law being passed in 2006, it stayed on the books and only came into full effect three years later, and incurred the wrath of some Senators and the World Trade Organization (WTO) alike, who declared that UIGEA discriminated against the many online poker rooms based outside the USA.

What Happened Next?

Despite the WTO ruling, many of the large poker sites – particularly ones with shareholders to appease – packed up their websites and hot-footed it out of the US. Other privately owned rooms argued they were not breaking the law and stayed resolutely put, continuing to accept US business, and bypassing payment processing legislation by utilizing smaller banks to funnel cash through (and getting very, very big in the process).

This led to the events April 15, 2011, known as Black Friday, when the Department of Justice (DoJ) raided offices of three of the biggest sites still operating in the United States – PokerStars, Full Tilt and Absolute/UB – and indicted various CEOs and payment processors on money-laundering charges.

As for the US players of those rooms, their funds were seized, and in the case of Full Tilt and Absolute/UB, lost. While PokerStars returned US players’ cash, it later emerged that millions of dollars had effectively been embezzled from accounts at Full Tilt. As of March 2024 – despite a takeover of Full Tilt by its old rival, PokerStars – many US players are still waiting for their money, though a fair number have been paid in full.

What Is Happening Right Now?

Unfortunately, the after-effects of UIGEA are still being felt in the USA, particularly in those states that have legalized and regulated online poker: Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey.

Some financial institutions are still jittery about processing online poker payments from players, and getting money in and out of legit poker sites in America continues to prove a headache.

Meanwhile, various bills have been put forth to regulate online gambling on a federal level and put the nightmare of UIGEA to bed for good. So far, however, there have been no successful attempts to force through any nationwide legislation regulating poker online across the USA.

It can be argued that without UIGEA – and therefore, Black Friday – we may not have seen regulated Internet poker in the three states that have forged ahead with laws of their own, but what is certain is that in the years since 2006 - when thousands of US players simply stopped playing poker online altogether - the American tax coffers have been denied billions of dollars in revenue.

What Will Happen in the Future?

While UIGEA made it hard for US players to enjoy Texas Hold’em and other card games online for real money, there has never been any law prohibiting the actual playing of poker online in the US. That means players in the USA like you can continue to sign up at real cash legit poker rooms and start playing right away.

So, enjoy your rights anywhere in the United States and get playing online today. Sign up with one of our recommended legal poker sites from LegalPoker.com in America, and start winning cash right now!