The United States could easily generate billions in taxes and create thousands of jobs in the industry as an alternative to live casino table games.
Why is online poker not legal in the United States?
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It is not strictly illegal. There is online poker in New Jersey and it has generated a lot of tax revenue. I think same in LA and Nevada. You must be a resident of the state.
IANAL but gambling has to be legal in your state and the state gambling commission must approve online gambling. Gambling across state lines is an interstate commerce thing.
Federal law is probably going to need to play out in courts. Again IANAL (I am not a lawyer).
At the federal level they made processing the money transaction illegal.
Most states don't allow gambling and you could have the same argument of jobs and tax revenue. Gambling is not widely accepted as a positive contribution to society (in the USA).
It is not strictly illegal. Some states have specifically outlawed it, such as Washington and I believe Kentucky and New York, while others have expressly legalized it, as @Paparazzi mentions in his answer.
The reason for this is due to the interpretation of federal law that deals with wire fraud and transferring money electronically for the purposes of games of chance. There has been no consistent and final legal ruling on the debate of skill vs luck in poker, which makes the transfer of money a potential sticking point, as seen when many of the large poker sites pulled out of the US, while others stuck around, skirting, if not outright breaking, laws regarding the coding of financial transactions.
In addition, there are currently many legal hurdles to just getting homes games legalized throughout the United States, let alone online poker. There is also the issue of determining whether it is in federal governments place to regulate and tax online poker, or if the states should, as some have already done, and others are considering.