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Illinois Online Poker Laws

The state of Illinois may be as average as it gets in terms of size (25th largest state in the Union), but they sure know how to pack them in! It’s the 5th most populated state, thus it should come as little surprise that there are hundreds of thousands of people from Illinois anticipating the passage of online poker regulation. Before I get ahead of myself, let’s take a moment to briefly review why online poker laws in Illinois are such a hot topic.

Online gambling hasn’t always been appreciated by US politicians. In 2006, the government passed the UIGEA to criminalize the activity of transferring money to/from offshore online poker and casino websites. The threat of penalty fell on payment processors, not players, but it did cause a remarkable exodus of online gaming sites form the US market when the Department of Justice started enforcing the UIGEA over the next few years.

The situation came to a head on what became known as Black Friday, April 15, 2011, when the three largest US-facing poker sites – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker – were shut down by the DOJ. What really stunned American online poker players, however, came in December of 2011 when the DOJ changed its mind about online gambling. They reversed their previous stance, saying the Wire Act of 1961 does not prohibit online gambling on a federal level, thus states would be able to make their own laws in regards to the legalization and regulation of online poker and other forms of internet gambling. At present, Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have all chosen to regulate online poker within their borders.

Legality of Online Poker Illinois

Now that you’re caught up on the details, we’ll attempt to address the legalities of online poker in Illinois. To do so, we’ll have to examine the current laws in regards to online poker and gambling in general. Anyone residing in the Prairie State should be well aware that gambling is a widely accepted pastime. There are 10 casino establishments in Illinois (although most of them are riverboat casinos due to very strict zoning laws), plus a multitude of horse racing and greyhound racing tracks, not to mention a bountiful state lottery contributing millions to the state’s tax coffers.

Suffice it to say, Illinois is not one of those territories where the battle for online poker regulation will be a long and tedious uphill struggle. Let’s examine the current gambling laws and see how they might pertain to online poker. We’ll also discuss the current status of legislative proposals for regulation in the state.

Illinois Compiled Statutes – Gambling Prohibition

The following script is an exact copy (with a few omissions to maintain relativity and fluency) taken from the Illinois Compiled Statutes, Criminal Offenses of 2012: 720 ILCS 5, Article 28.

Gambling and Related Offenses

Sec. 28-1. Gambling.

(a) A person commits gambling when he or she:

(1) knowingly plays a game of chance or skill for money or other thing of value, unless excepted in subsection (b) of this Section;

(12) knowingly establishes, maintains, or operates an Internet site that permits a person to play a game of chance or skill for money or other thing of value by means of the Internet or to make a wager upon the result of any game, contest, political nomination, appointment, or election by means of the Internet. This item (12) does not apply to activities referenced in items (6) and (6.1) of subsection (b) of this Section.

Author’s Note: section (b) refers to gambling activities that are not illegal, which include state authorized and regulated venues that supply things like pari-mutuel wagering, bingo, state lotteries, charitable gaming, riverboat gambling, licensed video gaming terminals, and games of skills where there is no purchase required to win a prize. The above reference to section (b), sub-sections (6) and (6.1) refer to online lottery sales authorized and regulated by the Illinois state lottery.

(c) Sentence.

Gambling is a Class A misdemeanor. A second or subsequent conviction under subsections (a)(3) through (a)(12), is a Class 4 felony.

That about sums it up for Illinois online poker laws. If you’d like to read the full literature of Illinois gambling laws, please use the link provided above.

What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Illinois?

Item 12 is very specific, prohibiting the act of gambling over the internet (unless you’re buying an Illinois state lottery ticket from an authorized site). Gambling is defined as any game of “chance or skill”, so there’s no arguing that it is legitimate because poker is a skill game. The cut and dry answer; Yes, online poker is illegal in Illinois… for the moment.

Is Illinois working to regulate online poker?

Here comes the good news – Illinois is one of the few states that is working towards the legalization of a regulated online poker industry. In 2012, state legislators reviewed House Bill 4148, an internet gambling bill that received a great deal of support and would have legalized online poker in the state. Multiple amendments were applied to the bill along the way, but it died an unceremonious death when it was pulled from the table by State Senate President John Cullerton.

Then in March of this year, a new bill was proposed as an amendment to SB 1739, which would expand the reach of land-based gambling in Illinois, as well as creating legal framework for online poker and other forms of gambling. Unfortunately, the online gambling provisions were stripped form the bill before it was passed into law.

On the bright side, there is a lot of support for legalization and regulation of online poker in Illinois, and law makers are not giving up on the subject. There’s no hope that the Prairie State will pass such laws this year, but 2014 could bring significant changes to Illinois; a state that has been struggling with budget deficits and seeking new ways to fill those holes. As other states like Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware introduce online gambling sites within their borders and prove just how lucrative the online gambling industry can be for individual states – especially one with such a high population – chances are that Illinois officials will eagerly move in that same direction.