Colorado Online Poker Laws
Colorado is one of the trickier states to unravel when it comes to online poker laws. On the one hand, prohibition is aimed at operators and service providers, not players. On the other hand, there are state issued documents that express point-blank that “internet gambling is illegal under state and federal law.” Then again, those documents date back to 2005, and a lot has happened since then.
In 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was introduced as an appendage to a Safe Port Act. That caused some tremors among the online gaming world, but it was the Black Friday of Online Poker (April 15, 2011) that really shook industry to its knees. The world’s largest online poker rooms, including PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, were shut down, their domains seized and player accounts frozen.
Americans heads really began spinning when the US Department of Justice, who had incited Black Friday, suddenly decided that it was okay for individual states to make their own laws regarding online poker and other forms of internet gambling. With that unexpected move, players began looking optimistically towards their state officials. That’s exactly where things stand now in terms of Colorado’s online poker laws.
Legality of Online Poker Colorado
A quick stroll through Colorado’s government website, under the Department of Revenue’s Division of Gaming, reveals a lot of clear cut information; much more so than most legislative websites. Let’s examine the exact laws pertaining to online poker and all forms of gambling in general to determine whether the act of placing a wager over the internet is truly criminalized and punishable by law. We’ll also discuss the future of online poker in Colorado, and whether state law makers are doing anything to regulate the activity on an intrastate level, as have several US states (Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey).
Colorado Statutes – Gambling Laws
Unlike most state government websites, Colorado has two ways to look up their laws. You can read the authentic legislative documents, or you can read concise descriptions of what the verbose forms actually mean. Using the succinct version, let’s take a look at what is and is not considered legal gambling in Colorado.
Under the gambling section entitled What is Legal, Colorado affirms that the following activities may be wagered on:
- LColorado Lottery
- Live and off-track betting on horse and dog racing events
- Bingo, raffles and charitable games licensed and regulated by the Secretary of State’s office
- “Social” Gambling
- “Limited” Gaming
The following definitions apply:
Limited Gaming: Casino-style gambling that is “limited” to:
- $100 maximum wager
- Slot machines, blackjack, poker, craps and roulette Historical districts in the towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek
- Tribal reservation lands in Southwest Colorado
- 35% of a building’s total space or 50% of a building floor
Social Gambling: A card game in which the participants have a “bona fide social relationship” (i.e. they know each other outside of the realm of poker) and no one profits from the game in any way other than winnings derived from actual gameplay. Professional gambling is also prohibited.
Professional Gambling: No one other than the players can profit from the game or activity, directly or indirectly, in any manner (i.e. no cover charge or partial collection of the pot(s) paid to anyone for organizing or hosting the game.)
Now let’s take a look at the section of Colorado’s Division of Gaming entitled Internet Gambling.
“Internet gambling is illegal under state and federal laws. Colorado law prohibits the transmission or reception of gambling information by any means. The federal Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, signed into law in October 2006, prohibits online gamblers from using credit cards, checks and electronic fund transfers to place and settle bets. Further, the federal 1961 Wire Act also prohibits the use of wire communications in interstate or foreign commerce for the placing of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers.”
It goes on to explain how Colorado cannot protect its citizens from unregulated online gambling sites. How they may or may not meet the state’s 80-100% payout percentage requirement or betting/payout limitations, and warns “persons and businesses licensed in the casino industry in Colorado” that it is illegal to have any involvement with online gambling sites accessible to Coloradans.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Colorado?
If you look only at the statement quoted above, wherein Internet Gambling is strictly deemed illegal, then the explicit answer is no, online poker is not legal in Colorado. However, if you go by the actual Colorado Revised Statues, its becomes more of a grey area. There are no laws or penalties regarding the player, but rather operators and “professional gamblers”. The fact is, there are offshore online poker sites that accept players from Colorado, and there isn’t a thing that Colorado has done about it. In addition, the cited phrase above was published in 2005, long before the DOJ reversed its opinion on online poker, therefore by federal law (since the Wire Act no longer applies to online gambling) may in fact be null and void. Or, it may not. Hence the shrouded grey area…
Is Colorado working to regulate online poker?
There is a big difference between “illegal” online poker and “regulated” online poker. Just because it’s not regulated in Colorado doesn’t necessarily mean it is illegal to participate. But again, the laws are ambiguous enough to allude to a prohibition of online poker in Colorado.
In terms of regulation, there actually was a brief attempt made in May 2012. According to an interview with CardPlayer, Lois Rice, the director of the Colorado Gaming Commission, the CGC had drafted a bill to legalize online poker in Colorado. However, Rice also stated that the subject was not expected to be a priority in 2013, but that it “will be an issue in Colorado” in 2014.
The article also revealed that the coalition of the state’s casinos had deliberated on the proposition of an online poker bill in 2012, but that other gaming related issues were of more importance. At the least, we know that Colorado is toying with the idea of regulation, but just how long it will take for that to occur is hard to say. More than likely, the resulting efficiency and liquidity of online poker / gambling legalization in other states like Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware will have a lot to do with if and when Colorado chooses to pass an online poker law.