Steve Martin's poker hobby victim of UIGEA


You never know who you may be across the table from when it comes to online poker. It could be some college kid grinding out his tuition, a dad winding down after work, or even comedic actor Steve Martin.

Or at least it could have been Steve Martin in days past. The legendary comedian made an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman Monday night and let it slip that he used to be an online poker player.

He has since given up the game, and by the sounds of his chat with Letterman, he gave it up under the mistaken idea that playing online poker is illegal.

That bit of information came out as Martin related his "Ambien experience" on the show.

For those of you not up on your sleep medication lore, many people have reported incidents of doing things in their sleep after taking Ambien. Some people sleepwalk and even make food and eat it, drive, take phone calls, send text messages and more while on the drug, with no memory of those actions.

For Martin, his experience results in winning $1,000 playing online poker after taking the sleep medication.

Martin told Letterman that one of his hobbies used to be playing Internet poker. He logged off one night with $500 in his account, took an Ambien and went to bed.

When he woke up the next day he went back to his online poker account and found that he had $1,500 in his account now. He was worried it was some sort of mistake and called the poker site. They told him their records showed him as being logged in from his IP address from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. and winning the $1,000.

The moral of Martin's story is that he gave up taking Ambien after that experience. Sadly for online poker players, he also said he was playing back in the day before it became illegal.

The illegality of online poker is a misconception that we'd like to rectify. So, Mr. Martin, if you happen to google yourself and land on this article, we'd like to give you more information on the issue and hopefully bring you back to the virtual tables.

Whether playing online poker is legal is a complicated issue. In 2002, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the Federal Wire Act prohibits electronic transmission of information for sports betting across telecommunications lines, but affirmed that the language of the act does not prohibit Internet gambling on a game of chance.

Simply put, sports betting online was still bad, but there isn't anything in the law against playing in an online casino or online poker room.

However, some states have specific laws against online gambling of any kind. Owning an online gaming operation without a proper license is considered illegal, and currently no states are granting online gaming licenses.

However, no person has been prosecuted for the act of playing online poker so far. The federal government and state governments have gone after online gambling company executives for providing what they deem illegal online gambling services.

Most people interpret the laws as targeting the service rather than the players who want to use those services, except in the case of Washington state, where playing online was specifically made illegal.

Since 2002, the U.S. federal government also passed into law the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. This is probably where Martin's belief that playing online poker is illegal derives from.

Many poker sites began pulling their business out of the United States when the law was passed. But the law doesn't make playing online illegal; it makes money transactions from financial institutions to illegal online gambling sites illegal.

Most credit cards stopped allowing online gambling transactions a few years ago as well, but the UIGEA made even more financial transactions between financial institutions and online gambling providers illegal.

The law made it more difficult for players to fund their accounts, but it didn't specifically make it illegal for a person to partake in online poker.

In fact, the regulations that were put in place due to the UIGEA make it clear that merely playing poker online is not a violation of the UIGEA. If they were to actively aid the online gambling operation in some way, that would be illegal, but playing online is not.

One of the points of contention with the UIGEA is that it also doesn't specifically define what would be considered illegal online gambling. Some argue that because poker is a game of skill, it isn't an illegal gambling activity.

In June 2007, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that would legalize Internet poker, bridge, chess and other games of skill, specifically exempting them from the UIGEA.

In September 2008, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced a similar bill that would allow the licensing of Internet skill games. This was the first bill related to online skill games such as poker that has been introduced in the Senate.

There has been positive action in some states as well in support of poker being a game of skill and exempt from some gambling laws.

A Colorado jury recently agreed that poker is a game of skill and as such ruled the organizer of a poker league not guilty of illegal gambling. A Pennsylvania judge also recently ruled that because skill is the dominant factor in Texas Hold'em, it is a game of skill and not chance.

What it boils down to if you're uncertain over whether or not you're allowed to play online poker is that you should check your state laws before heading to the virtual felt. There are plenty of poker sites out there willing to welcome you to the tables.

As for you, Mr. Martin, there's still a seat open for you as well.


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